Juhee Lee, MD, an attending physician with the Division of Allergy and Immunology at Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia (CHOP), offers guidance to parents on:

Your child has a runny nose and a headache. You are worried it might be more than just a cold, but you’re not sure. How do you tell the difference between a cold, allergies and a chest infection? Should you call your primary care provider?

The different symptoms of allergies and colds or infections

“Ask yourself a few key questions,” says Dr. Lee. “The answers can help you figure out what might be causing the congestion and what you can do to help your child.”

What kind of congestion is it?

Does your child have a fever?

Is there a seasonal pattern to the congestion?

Does your child snore or have interrupted breathing during sleep?

When to call your primary care provider

If your child is 3 months old or younger, call your primary care provider whenever your child has nasal or chest congestion.

Symptom Checker

If your child is more than 4 months old, call your primary care provider if your child:

Seek emergency care if your child:

Treatments are different depending on the cause of the congestion. Your child’s primary care provider can tell you what steps to take to relieve symptoms and help your child get better.

What specialists can help

Your child’s pediatrician can refer you to an appropriate specialist if necessary, depending on how serious your child’s condition is and what is causing the health problems. Depending on the condition, your child may need to see more than one specialist. Specialists who help with medical issues related to congestion include:

Pulmonologists, who treat patients with breathing problems and other medical issues relating to the lungs. Pulmonologists diagnose and treat conditions such as asthma, cystic fibrosis and primary ciliary dyskinesia (PCD), a rare cause of chronic nasal congestion and chronic cough.