“My child is always stuffy.”

“Her nose constantly runs.”

“His sinuses are really bad.”

These are the common complaints we hear in our Allergy Clinic, says Pediatric Allergist Jay Lieberman, MD. The majority of parents are frustrated when their kids are constantly congested, stuffy, runny or sneezy, says Lieberman. And they assume it must be an allergy – but that’s not always the case. 

In fact, the majority of children with these nasal issues do not have allergies as the cause of their symptoms, he says. These symptoms are often simply a reflection of “colds” or viral infections.

“Parents are often in disbelief when I tell them this because their child seems to have symptoms every day -- thinking that there is no way they can have this many colds,” said Lieberman. “In fact, though, it’s not uncommon for little ones to get colds one to two times per month, especially if they are in day care or preschool, and for these to cause symptoms for up to two weeks. While very annoying, this is not a sign of allergies or problems with their immune system.”

There are no hard and fast rules that can tell you if the symptoms are allergic reactions or not. Here are some tips that can help, though:

  1. If the symptoms are usually associated with a fever or other symptoms such as cough or sore throat, they are likely due to a virus.
  2. If symptoms got worse when your child started school or since they have been in day care or preschool, they are likely not an allergy.
  3. If your child has the symptoms prior to 2 years of age, they are often not allergies.
  4. Symptoms of itchy nose, itchy/watery eyes and sneezing can be clues to allergy.
  5. If the symptoms are worse outdoors during the spring or summer in this area, they may be allergic in nature.

In the end, there is never really a downside in seeking allergy testing for these questions, Lieberman says. After all, the procedure is quite easy, painless and only takes 20 minutes to have an answer.

“Best of all for kids, most allergists do not use any needles or sharp pointy things to perform the testing. These days it is typically done with some small plastic devices. The test is very well tolerated once kids get over the initial fear. For some reason, and I can’t imagine why, all they care about is whether it’s a shot or not,” said Lieberman.

Typical allergy tests test for allergies to:

  • pollens (trees, grasses and weeds)
  • mold
  • dust mite
  • cockroach
  • cats
  • dogs

If these are suspected triggers, the test may provide some answers. Just remember, not all that is sneezy, runny and stuffy is an allergy.