By Andrew MacGinnitie, MD, PhD, associate clinical director of the Division of Immunology at Children’s Hospital Boston
As the days get longer and warmer, most people’s thoughts turn to baseball, barbecues and breaking out their summer clothes. It’s a carefree time for many, but as an allergist spring is my busy season. In the northeast trees pollinate first, which means many allergy sufferers notice symptoms as early as April. (After an unseasonably warm winter like this one, it can happen even earlier.) Grass pollen season arrives in the late spring and continues through June. Ragweed is the dominant fall allergen and is typically present from August until the first hard freeze.
Because allergies and colds share symptoms many parents have a hard time telling the two apart. Both allergies and colds (also known as viral infections) can lead to runny noses, nasal congestion and sneezing. But the main difference between the two is that colds tend to last only for a few days, where allergy symptoms last for much longer. Allergies also tend to cause an itchiness or irritation in the eyes and nose, and colds typically don’t. So if your child’s sneezing and sniffling lasts for more than a week and his eyes and nose are itching he most likely has seasonal allergies and not a cold.
When they’re not being mistaken for colds, seasonal allergies are often called “hay fever” but that’s a misleading term— allergies won’t cause a fever and hay is not a cause. But despite those inaccuracies, hay fever is a pretty telling description considering how miserable allergies can make you feel. Depending on how severe a person’s allergies are, their symptoms can be as bad (or worse) than the flu. Studies show that during pollen season school attendance and performance for children with allergies suffers significantly. …