Updated 31 May 2017

Does my child have a cold or an allergy?

Here's how to tell whether your child's symptoms are due to a cold or allergy.


These are signs that your child may have an allergy:

  • Irritated, red, itchy eyes;
  • Repeated sneezing: Children also sneeze when they have colds, but is more commonly associated with allergies;
  • A runny nose, with clear, watery discharge, not thick, yellow and green;
  • So-called allergic shiners, or dark rings under the eyes;
  • So-called clucking - kids with allergies often click on the roofs of their mouths with their tongues;
  • The so-called allergic salute: Kids with allergies develop a habit of frequent, upward rubs with their mouths. This causes the development of an allergic crease, or a line across the bridge of the nose.

In summary, the differences are:

A cold:

  • Usually begins with or is accompanied by a sore throat;
  • Generally doesn’t last more than ten days;
  • Usually occurs during winter months;
  • The child usually complains about the symptoms;
  • Can include a fever;
  • Family members may also be ill;

A seasonal allergy:

  • The symptoms disappear when the child moves from one environment to another, signaling that they’ve moved away from the allergy trigger;
  • The symptoms can be ongoing;
  • Is more serious during spring and summer;
  • There is usually no fever;
  • The child might not complain abut feeling unwell, even though the symptoms are present;
  • Symptoms such as itchy, watery eyes, ticklish throat and sneezing are present.

(Health24, updated February 2010)

Read more:
What is a fever?

Allergy Society of South Africa (ALLSA)


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Allergy expert

Dr Morris is the Principal Allergist at the Cape Town and Johannesburg Allergy Clinics with postgraduate diplomas in Allergology, Dermatology, Paediatrics and Family Medicine dealing with both adult and childhood allergies.

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