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On Call: The Comeback Cold

Q. My son's had a cold for weeks. Why's it lingering?

A. A visit to the doctor would be a good idea (depending on what it is, he may need antibiotics). A few reasons it could be hanging on:

? It might be a string of several colds rather than just one, especially if he intermittently seems slightly better. It's common for kids to catch as many as six to ten a year.

? It could be sinusitis (a bacterial infection that's treated with antibiotics); especially if he has a fever, cough, or green nasal discharge.

? Asthma can also cause a lingering cough (which you might mistake as part of a cold), usually at night or during exercise.

? If he has ongoing stuffiness and sneezing, with clear or white nasal discharge and possibly itchy, tearing eyes, he most likely has allergies. If so, you may also notice some darkening under your child's eyes, which doctors call "allergic shiners." Allergy symptoms are common in the spring and fall due to pollen from weeds, trees, and other plants. I've also seen kids develop them when the family moves to a new house that's dusty from renovations or has mold or unwelcome co-inhabitants like mice. In previously allergy-free children, the arrival of a new pet can cause symptoms, too.

If you suspect allergies, your doctor might suggest an over-the-counter medicine such as Benadryl as a first-pass treatment, but it can make some kids sleepy. (If it does this to your child, some effective non-sedating prescription medications are also available.) Ultimately, though, treating allergies involves limiting exposure to what's causing them. Your doctor should be able to help you with strategies or refer your child to an allergist for skin testing if the trigger isn't clear.