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Coronavirus

Cold, flu or covid? How to tell the difference — especially in kids

Dr. Uzma Muneer is a board-certified pediatrician with Elmhurst Clinic.
Dr. Uzma Muneer is a board-certified pediatrician with Elmhurst Clinic.

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It’s challenging enough deciphering if the coughing, sneezing, scratchy throat and body aches are caused by a virus or allergies in an average year.

But toss COVID-19 into the mix, and it’s nearly impossible to make a definitive call based on symptoms alone, said Dr. Uzma Muneer, a board-certified pediatrician with Elmhurst Clinic.

“That’s why we have to do testing and isolation,” Muneer said. “We just don’t know.”

Muneer did say the presence of a certain symptom, even in children, rules out allergies.

“Fever is not a part of seasonal allergies,” Muneer said.

A fever can be COVID-19. But it also can mean the flu or strep throat. And many people who do test positive for COVID-19 never run a fever, Muneer said.

“[In that case,] a doctor may say, ‘Stay at home, monitor symptoms and call us if things escalate,’” Muneer said.

Typically, cough, sore throat, fatigue, congestion or runny nose and muscle or body aches are symptoms that often are seen with colds, especially in kids.

Symptoms that generally aren’t part of the common cold are nausea or vomiting, diarrhea and shortness of breath or difficulty breathing.

But shortness of breath also can accompany allergies and asthma, Muneer said. That’s why it’s so important for people to have a primary care physician, she said.

That’s especially true this year, when parents and patients should not be relying on guesswork to figure out the cause of their symptoms, she said.

“You wouldn’t have bat an eyelash in previous years,” she said.

Parents worry about multisystem inflammatory syndrome in children, but this illness, although serious, is not common, according to a news release from Edward-Elmhurst Health.

Symptoms of MIS-C include a persistent, prolonged fever, skin rash, red eyes, lips and tongue, and swollen hands and feet.

Findings suggest that children are less likely to get COVID-19 than adults, and if they do contract COVID-19, they generally have less serious illness than adults. But scientists still are learning how COVID-19 spreads and impacts children.

Some people become infected with COVID-19 and don’t develop any symptoms. But they still can spread the virus to others, including those who are at risk of complications.

“We do recommend testing if there’s any concern of COVID,” Muneer said.

With any virus, it’s important that parents keep a close eye on their children, Muneer said.

“You know your child best,” Muneer said in a news release from Edward-Elmhurst Health. “Let your child’s doctor know if your child has a fever, is lethargic, won’t drink fluids, has any difficulty in breathing or has any other symptoms that concern you. When in doubt, call the doctor.”

Children should have regular wellness checkups and stay up to date with all recommended vaccinations, especially the flu shot this season.

Muneer also recommends people and families continue to limit exposures, wear masks in public, wash their hands frequently and physically distance themselves.

But don’t let your guard down, even if a COVID-19 test comes back negative, she said.

“Continue doing what’s recommended,” Muneer said.

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