During the ongoing pandemic, your family’s health probably continues to be your top priority. And while we’d all like to remain home as much as possible, the reality is that both parents and kids may be required to be out in public on a daily basis. While over 20,000 workplace slip-and-fall injuries were reported in California during 2015, your job site may have other risk factors related to viral transmission right now. What’s more, your child’s school setup may increase the chance of infection, depending on where you live and the safety measures being taken.

Understandably, the threat of the novel coronavirus can be enough to make many parents panic. But given the fact that children are prone to coming down to other illnesses, such as the flu or the common cold, how do you know when it’s really time to be concerned? Let’s take a closer look at these three medical situations, how worried parents may be able to tell the difference, and what should be done if you suspect your child is sick.

Common Cold

The common cold gets its name from its prevalence. Since colds can be caused by a number of different viruses, it’s no wonder that they’re a frequent cause of illness in kids. In fact, most children come down with six to eight colds per year (or even more, if they attend daycare or school).

Typically, most cold symptoms are relatively mild. The average person makes a full recovery within 10 days, though cold symptoms can last anywhere from 48 hours to two weeks. Colds often come with a more gradual onset of symptoms that may change on a daily basis. Symptoms of the common cold may include a scratchy or sore throat, a runny or stuffy nose, sneezing, headaches, watery eyes, congestion, a mild cough, body aches, or a low-grade fever. And while your kiddo may feel a bit yucky, they will probably still have some energy to play at certain points. In most cases, cold symptoms will not include digestive issues (like nausea, vomiting, or diarrhea) or shortness of breath. That’s because colds are upper respiratory illnesses that mainly center around the nose and throat.

There’s no cure for the common cold, so the symptoms will simply need to run their course. However, it’s generally advised that children should be relatively isolated (even when you believe their symptoms don’t point to anything serious) and monitored regularly. Your doctor may still recommend that you make an appointment for your child to have a COVID test, as children may experience more mild symptoms of the novel coronavirus than adults do. Even in the event of a negative test, your child should still quarantine for at least 10 days to avoid infecting others. Even if they merely spread around a cold, that can be disastrous to those who are already immuno-compromised. It’s better to be safe than sorry, so contact your family doctor to see what they would advise.

Influenza

Flu symptoms often present themselves relatively quickly (anywhere from one to four days after infection), which stands in stark contrast to COVID-19. Although flu symptoms can be somewhat mild, they tend to be more severe than what your child would experience with a common cold. There is a bit of overlap to some of these symptoms, so keep a sharp eye out. Common flu symptoms may include cough, fever, chills, extreme tiredness, breathing difficulties, headache, stuffy or runny nose, sore throat, congestion, poor appetite, body aches, or vomiting and diarrhea. Although digestive problems are common in the U.S. and affect 60 to 70 million people, not all people who come down with the flu experience these problems; however, they’re more common in younger children.

Since the flu is the only one of these three conditions to have an effective and widely available vaccine, it’s a good idea to ensure your child is vaccinated for influenza every year. Flu season tends to peak from December through February, so don’t delay getting your family shots this year. The flu can be really dangerous for children and the vaccine is the best way to protect your loved ones and keep local hospitals from becoming overwhelmed during this time. If your child catches the flu, however, it’s best to seek medical help early. Your doctor may be able to provide you with an antiviral medication that can shorten the duration of the flu or keep symptoms from becoming as severe as they otherwise might.

COVID-19

COVID-19 typically has a longer incubation period (which can range anywhere from two days to 14 days after infection occurs). But even more worrying is the fact that asymptomatic infections are probably more common than we realize. Many children who become infected with the novel coronavirus may not experience any symptoms at all, while others may have only mild symptoms that might mimic the common cold or the flu. One of the most distinguishing characteristics of COVID-19 is the loss of taste and smell that occurs in many patients. Skin reactions, sometimes known as “COVID toes,” are also relatively common and can help parents differentiate this infection from others. Fever, cough, and shortness of breath are also extremely common, though these may not give you a definitive answer as to what’s making your child sick. That’s why it’s better to err on the side of caution and to order a test, isolate, and monitor symptoms.

Of course, COVID-19 vaccines may be coming soon, but they are not yet available. Most individuals who contract COVID do get better on their own with plenty of rest and hydration. However, there’s so much we don’t know about coronavirus and how it impacts kids. Long-term effects may be worrying to many parents, which is a good reason to take action early if you suspect your child may have been exposed to the virus. It’s best to contact your doctor, particularly if your child has asthma or other pre-existing conditions, to be on the safe side.

Ultimately, wearing masks and washing hands frequently can help to prevent all three of these illnesses. But if your child does get sick this winter, try to remain calm and follow these tips to protect your family.

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