Is it a cold...the flu? Or Allergies?

As a mother of four, I've dealt with my fair share of children's health issues -- from cuts and scrapes to the flu. Two of my sons suffer from allergies, so I've learned to recognize the triggers: things like dust from the chalkboard, mold in the locker room, and dander from class pets can all cause allergy symptoms. So can grass and pollen outside in the schoolyard.

For lots of kids, allergies are more than just a nuisance. My boys complain of difficulties concentrating during class because they get distracted by sneezing and itchy eyes. Their allergies also make them feel groggy. For other kids -- tweens in particular --allergies can be a social issue. Kids at this stage are particularly self-conscious, and walking around with a runny nose and watery eyes can make them uncomfortable.

You can help your children stay happy and healthy by having a plan in place to treat their allergy symptoms. For example, remind your child to wash his hands frequently to avoid spreading allergy-causing dust, pollen, pet dander, and other substances to the nose. If your child sits near classroom pets or plants that trigger their allergies, ask the teacher to change her seat.

Below are some additional steps you can take to prevent allergy flare-ups during the school day:

--Identify the specific allergens that trigger your child's symptoms so he can avoid them.

--Tell your child's teachers, school nurse, coaches and caretakers about her allergies, triggers, and medications.


--Treat allergy symptoms with a non-sedating antihistamine that will last the entire school day.

Recognize the difference between a cold and an allergy. Both may cause sneezing, congestion, a runny nose and watery eyes. Colds usually start with a sore throat, but don't usually cause an itchy feeling in the throat, eyes and nose. Colds generally last for 7-10 days, while allergy symptoms often subside within several hours after exposure to the allergen ceases.

It's important for kids with allergies to understand what causes their symptoms and take an active role in managing them. A resource I share with my kids is Casey and the School Day Sneezes, a fun and educational story that explains the allergy triggers kids may come across at school. It also has tips from a pediatric allergist on how to manage symptoms. You can visit to order a free copy.

MARIA T. BAILEY is a parenting author and founder and CEO of and She hosts Mom Talk Radio, a nationally syndicated radio show for moms, and "The Balancing Act" on Lifetime TV. She created Smart Mom Solutions, a product line that offers solutions to everyday challenges for busy moms. Bailey is also a spokesperson for Claritin.