My kids woke up with sniffles and a cough. What do I do now?
GEHA | October 1, 2021
Dr. Jared Dirks is Director of Population Health at GEHA. He is a physician leader and healthcare executive with more than 10 years of experience delivering patient-focused care as well as driving operational and organizational leadership on the provider and managed care platforms.
A) The common cold, the flu and COVID-19 are all caused by viruses that infect the respiratory tract. All are contagious, can spread easily from person to person and cause similar symptoms. It can be hard to tell them apart. Here are some things to look for if your child gets sick:
The common cold (caused by many different viruses)
Cold symptoms usually are mild. They often include a tickly throat, a runny or stuffy nose, and sneezing. If there's a fever, it is not high. A child with a cold usually feels quite well and has a good appetite and normal energy levels. There is no test for the common cold, and no specific treatment. It just needs to run its course.
The flu (caused by the influenza virus)
The flu can also be mild. Usually, though, kids with the flu feel worse than if they have a cold. They might have a fever that comes on suddenly, with chills, a headache, and body aches. They can have a sore throat, runny nose, and cough. And they feel generally miserable and tired and don't have much of an appetite. Some kids even have belly pain, nausea, vomiting, or diarrhea. A doctor can check if someone has the flu by doing a test that looks for the flu virus. Most kids with flu get better at home with plenty of liquids, rest, and comfort. In some cases, a doctor might prescribe an antiviral medicine to ease symptoms and shorten the illness. Some people get very ill and need treatment in the hospital. Many cases of the flu can be prevented by getting a flu vaccine every year.
COVID-19 (Caused by a type of Coronavirus)
Kids infected by the coronavirus may not have any symptoms, or their symptoms can be mild, like those of a common cold. Some can have more severe flu-like symptoms. So COVID-19 symptoms can look very much like those from a cold or the flu. But one symptom that happens more commonly in COVID-19 is a loss of taste or smell.
To see if someone has coronavirus, doctors can do a test that looks for a piece of the virus in the respiratory tract. They also can check for a past infection by doing a blood test that looks for antibodies.
When should I call the doctor?
If you have any doubts or questions, it's best to call your doctor. An illness that seems like a cold can turn out to be the flu or COVID-19. And other illnesses, like strep throat or pneumonia, can cause similar symptoms but need different treatment. Sometimes it's hard to know for sure which germ is causing the problem. Then, doctors might do some tests to find out.
Get medical care right away if your child:
- seems to be getting worse
- has trouble breathing
- has a high fever
- has a bad headache
- has a sore throat
- seems confused
- has severe belly pain
- has pain or pressure in the chest
- has trouble staying awake
- looks bluish in the lips or face
Call your doctor right away if your child has asthma or another illness and starts to feel sick with symptoms that might be the flu or COVID-19. The doctor might want to do some tests or start a specific medicine for the flu.