When your child complains of a runny nose, sneezing and coughing, your first thought may be a cold. But these symptoms can also point to allergies.

Different types of allergens can cause your child to have a reaction. In some cases, these reactions can be life-threatening. Whether it’s a food allergy or seasonal allergies, knowing what’s causing your child’s symptoms is key to keeping him or her healthy.

Here we break down the different types of allergies, symptoms and reactions for children, followed by information specific to toddlers, babies and infants (1 year old and younger).

Allergies in Children

When your child’s immune system reacts abnormally to something that is typically harmless, it can cause an allergic reaction. As many as 50 million Americans (including kids) suffer from some type of allergy. Common allergens include foods, medications, dust, dander and plant pollen.

It’s important to try to identify when your child is having an allergic reaction so you can determine what’s causing it and then work to manage the reaction or prevent it from happening again.

Allergic Reactions in Children

Your child can have an allergic reaction to a variety of things, including pollen, mold, pet dander, insect stings, medications and foods. While most allergic reactions aren’t serious, some can be life-threatening and require immediate medical attention.

  • Symptoms of a mild allergic reaction include a runny nose, sneezing, watery eyes, itching, skin redness, red bumps on the skin and slight swelling.
  • Symptoms of a severe allergic reaction include swelling of the mouth or tongue, difficulty swallowing or speaking, trouble breathing, dizziness, vomiting and diarrhea. These symptoms can be life-threatening. If you child has any of these symptoms, call 911 for immediate medical attention.

Seasonal Allergies in Children

Seasonal allergies, often called “hay fever,” happen at specific times of the year, every year, typically when outdoor molds release their spores and pollen levels rise. If your child is experiencing seasonal allergies, you may notice that he or she is sneezing and coughing and suffering from nasal congestion and a runny, itchy nose.

For children who experience these symptoms in addition to shortness of breath and wheezing, it’s possible that their allergies are triggering asthma.

Children who have never experienced seasonal allergies before can get them seemingly out of nowhere. Typically, seasonal allergies will develop by the time a child turns 10 and will reach their peak in the early 20s. It’s possible for symptoms to dissipate later in adulthood.

Food Allergies in Children

The most common food allergies in children are milk, eggs, soy, wheat, tree nuts, peanuts, fish and shellfish. If your child consumes something that he or she is allergic to, the body will release a protein called histamine. It is this histamine response that causes the allergic reaction.

Food allergy reactions can vary from child to child, including different reactions times. Some reactions are very mild, with only one or two symptoms, while other reactions are severe and can be life-threatening.

Below are some common food allergy symptoms. Call 911 for immediate medical attention if your child has trouble breathing or if the throat, mouth or tongue are swollen as these symptoms can be life-threatening.

  • Throat tightness
  • Swelling of the lips, tongue or mouth
  • Swollen eyes
  • Difficulty breathing
  • Wheezing
  • Hives
  • Red spots
  • Itchy red bumps
  • Belly pain
  • Vomiting
  • Diarrhea
  • Nausea
  • Sneezing
  • Coughing
  • Shortness of breath
  • Fainting
  • Drop in blood pressure

If you believe that your child has a food allergy, talk to your doctor about potential testing and treatment.

Toddler Allergies

Toddler allergies are much like those you see in older children. When your toddler’s immune system overreacts to a substance that is generally innocuous, an allergic reaction can occur, causing watery eyes, sneezing and coughing. The most common allergies include mold, dust mites, pet dander and pollen.

Allergic Reactions in Toddlers

If your toddler is having an allergic reaction to something, here are the symptoms to look for.

  • Allergies to food and medicine typically result in hives, a rash, itching, wheezing and shortness of breath. Food allergies can also cause nausea, vomiting or abdominal pain.
  • Seasonal allergy reactions typically include sneezing, coughing, wheezing, a runny nose and red itchy eyes.

Fever with Allergies in Toddlers

Even though allergies are often called “hay fever,” toddlers typically don’t get a fever with allergies. If your toddler has a fever, it is most likely from a cold or other virus. The low-grade fever (usually up to 101 degrees Fahrenheit) is often accompanied with a runny nose and itchy, watery eyes.

If your child has any seasonal allergies, they likely won’t show up until he or she is 18 months old.

Can Babies Have Allergies?

It’s possible for babies to suffer from allergies, too.

  • Food or medication reactions typically occur immediately after exposure. These reactions can be life-threatening. (Refer to the list of symptoms under “Food Allergies in Children.”)
  • For environmental allergies, your baby can have a reaction as soon as skin touches the allergen. Common environmental allergies include detergent in clothes and dust.
  • Seasonal allergies are usually an issue during specific times of the year. They typically originate from plants and trees that grow near you.

Infant Allergies

Infants can experience traditional allergy symptoms, such as rashes and nasal congestion, as well as allergies to new foods. Because infants aren’t able to communicate what they’re feeling, it is important to keep a close eye on symptoms and see a doctor if you have any concerns.

Infant Allergy Symptoms

Your infant’s allergy symptoms will vary depending on the type of reaction he or she is having, but they’re similar to those you see in toddlers and children. (Read about typical reactions under “Can Babies Have Allergies?”)

Food Allergies in Infants

The first time your baby begins to eat solid foods is a very exciting day, but it can come with some trepidation as you wonder whether your infant suffers from any food allergies.

If possible, try to introduce your baby to new foods one at a time so you can identify any reactions your child may have. These include hives, a rash, swelling of the face or tongue, vomiting, diarrhea, coughing, trouble breathing or loss of consciousness.

Some of the most common foods that can cause allergies are milk, egg, peanuts, tree nuts, fish, shellfish, soy and wheat.

Allergy Testing

If a doctor or allergist suspects your child (of any age) has allergies, he or she may recommend allergy testing. Here are some common types.

  • A skin prick test is typically one of the first tests given for allergies. During this test, a small amount of an allergen is put on your child’s skin, and then the skin is pricked so the allergen seeps below the surface. Over the next 20 minutes, the doctor will watch your child’s skin for any swelling or redness, which could indicate an allergic reaction.
  • A blood test that measures the level of immunoglobulin E (IgE), a type of antibody that can indicate an allergic reaction. Antibodies are made by the immune system to protect the body from bacteria, viruses, and allergens. IgE antibodies are normally found in small amounts in the blood, but higher amounts can be a sign that the body overreacts to allergens.
  • An oral food challenge test may be recommended if both the skin and blood tests come back inconclusive. During this test, your child consumes a small amount of food that may be causing the allergic reaction.
  • Elimination diet testing can also help deduce what is causing your child’s reactions.

If you believe your child is suffering from allergies, visit your local Medical City Children’s Urgent Care. Our pediatric-trained staff can talk with you about your child’s options and will likely recommend an allergist who can provide a proper diagnosis.

To avoid spending time in the waiting room, use the Web Check-In® feature on our website.

Disclaimer: Patients’ health can vary. Always consult with a medical professional before taking medication, making health-related decisions or deciding if medical advice is right for you.