Allergies, Colds, and My Neuroses
Helping my kid navigate her way through asthma has felt like a microcosm of parenthood in general, and I’ve long suspected it’s the same for other parents of children with chronic but not (usually) life-threatening disorders. We’re constantly having to make those midline decisions between letting go and hanging on, choices most parents don’t have to make until their children start driving cars and staying home alone after school. Honestly, I think I’ll be less crazy over AG’s first date than I was over her first sleepover.
Will she remember to use her inhaler? Will her friend’s parents help her remember? Should I call and remind her, or should I trust her? What if the girls all sleep on the floor and it’s carpeted, and the carpet hasn’t been vacuumed in awhile and the dust mites set off a flare? Do they have pets? Should I give her my cell phone so she doesn’t have to get up and find the phone in the middle of the night if she needs me?
You see what I mean.
Beyond the immediate medical worry of having a kid who can’t process air efficiently, asthma can impose a whole slew of emotional hurdles on parenting, too. But if having a child with moderate-to-severe and now moderate asthma made me grow up in a hurry, having that child first made for some funny reactions to my second child’s health. And by funny I mean largely irrational and without scope.
My now-kindergartener turned two in December 2003, right in the middle of all AG’s worst asthma and GI problems. That spring, I took her to the pediatrician for a runny nose that would not dry up after a solid month, and I was simultaneously convinced and terrified she had asthma, too. Let’s eavesdrop on my conversation with the doctor:
Me: Do you think she has asthma like her sister? I mean, she’s been coughing every night and nothing helps.
Doc: Well, I don’t hear anything. Her lungs are clear, and her breathing is excellent.
Me: Oh. Um, are you sure? Is there another way to check?
Doc: *pauses, glances to see if I’m serious* Okay, let’s try something.
I’m reasonably certain she wanted to scribble a warning about me to the other physicians in my daughter’s records, but to her immense credit she treated me seriously without cracking a smile. Then she had my toddler run up and down the hallway next to the exam room, to the great amusement of the practice’s nurses and AG. When my kid’s lungs were working good and hard, the pediatrician listened to them again.
Doc: Nope, still clear. I think she’s okay.
Me: It’s just that, you know, AG comes in with asthma problems sometimes and she sounds clear here but then she coughs all night. Is that possible with this daughter, too? I mean, I know I sound crazy but I’m worried she has asthma, too.
Still, despite a probably enormous urge to roll her eyes, the pediatrician kept her poker face on. This time, she got my daughter to hop up and down–in that uncoordinated, skipping-in-place kind of hop particular to toddlers–for a moment or two and listened to her breathing again.
Doc: I understand you’re worried because her sister’s been so severe, but I’m just not hearing anything that makes me worry.
Me: Okay, that’s good. I mean, great, really. But why can’t she stop coughing?
Doc: A bad enough cold can irritate the throat for weeks sometimes–what are you giving her for the cough?
See, at this point I’d spent almost five years parenting an asthmatic child, never giving her medicine to suppress her cough since it is her main flare symptom. Giving cough suppressants to her non-asthmatic sister never even occurred to me. This was probably a good thing during her first two years, what with the recent FDA advisory on OTC cold medications and kids, but at that age? Four months after her second birthday and coughing for a month solid? She totally could have been taking some kind of medication to quiet her cough and and help her sleep.
Add to this list of *Obvious Things I Never Considered* the following: another, less serious chronic issue could cause a constant runny nose and subsequent coughing.
April is the height of pollen season, and I lived in that year’s worse place in the country for hay fever – the Tampa Bay area. You might think I’d piece all these clues together into one sane solution rather than just assume the worst, but positive thinking just doesn’t come naturally. My thing is more doomsday scenario/hopeful negativity.
The ending for this particular story? One of those low-steroid nasal sprays cleared the runny nose right up, and a cough suppressant at night helped during the transition. My kindergartener has seasonal allergies but she doesn’t have asthma and now–at age six, she’ll probably stay that way. It’s not impossible for her to develop asthma, of course, but not likely, either.
Having an older kid with problematic, persistent asthma obscured the cold vs. allergies evaluation, but then again look at the symptoms the two share:
Distinguishing the two is hard for most people as a result. Here’s where you can narrow your focus, though:
Could be allergies, could be a cold. Check the other symptoms.
Itchy nose or eyes?
Previous history of skin allergies?
Oh, you know the answer here.
Is it allergy season?
You guessed it.
Unsure if allergy season has hit your area yet? You can always check Pollen.com. For more information about seasonal allergies, check out The Pollen’s Back or the asthma and allergy resources in the left sidebar.