Does Your Child Have a Cold, the Flu, or COVID-19?

Kenneth Knowles, MD
Medically reviewed by Kenneth Knowles, MDOctober 19th, 2020
Kids with flu

Welcome to the 2020 flu season. As you’ve most likely gathered, this year is going to be a little more complicated than past seasons—parents like you will now have to contend with the threat of COVID-19 in addition to the flu and the common cold. To help you distinguish between these infections and take the appropriate next steps, here’s a brief overview of how a cold, the flu, and COVID-19 differ from one another.

Symptoms of COVID-19 vs. Other Viral Infections

First things first—while there are reliable guidelines regarding the symptoms of common infections, only a medical professional with access to diagnostic technology can definitively determine if your child has a cold, the flu, or COVID-19. So, don’t delay seeking care if you believe your child is sick.


COVID-19 is a respiratory illness that is caused by SARS-CoV-2, a new type of coronavirus. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), the most common symptoms of COVID-19 in kids and teens are cough and fever. However, children with COVID-19 may experience any of the following:

Call 911 immediately and inform the operator that your child may have COVID-19 if he or she:

  • Has difficulty breathing
  • Becomes confused
  • Has difficulty waking up
  • Experiences persistent chest pain or pressure
  • Has bluish lips or skin

The Flu

The flu, or seasonal influenza, is typically caused by influenza viruses A and B. Symptoms often occur abruptly and usually last for three or four days, although it may take a few weeks for your child to get back to feeling 100%.

Unlike a cold, the flu commonly causes a fever. Your child may have the flu if he or she experiences any of the following:

The flu can sometimes cause potentially serious complications in children. Call 911 if any of these symptoms occur:

  • Fever above 104 degrees Fahrenheit, or any fever in a baby younger than 12 weeks
  • Bluish skin or lips
  • Fast, labored, or troubled breathing
  • Chest pain
  • Severe muscle pain
  • Seizures
  • Dehydration (lack of urine or tears when crying)
  • Symptoms that improve but suddenly worsen

The Common Cold

Colds are referred to as “common” for a reason—they tend to occur frequently, especially in children. Symptoms often develop gradually and typically last for about one week. More than 200 viruses can lead to a cold, although the majority of cases are caused by rhinoviruses. Kids and teens who have a cold may experience the following symptoms:

  • Nasal congestion
  • Runny nose with mucus that may appear yellow or green
  • Sore throat
  • Cough
  • Sneezing
  • Watery eyes
  • Muscle aches
  • Unusual tiredness
  • Headache
  • Low-grade fever

A cold rarely necessitates emergency care, but it’s important to promptly speak with a medical professional if your child’s symptoms:

  • Include a fever higher than 100.4 degrees Fahrenheit
  • Don’t improve with over-the-counter cold medications
  • Persist for more than 10 days

The Bottom Line

COVID-19 is a new disease that researchers are learning more about every day. At this point, the symptom that seems to be the strongest indicator of COVID-19 is a new loss of taste or smell, which is not associated with the common cold or the flu. It’s also worth noting that COVID-19 often has very mild symptoms, especially in children. This is not the case with the flu, which tends to cause several days of severe and disruptive symptoms.

If your child is displaying potential symptoms of COVID-19, a cold, or the flu, be sure to keep him or her at home and promptly speak with a medical professional about what you should do next. Some medical practices have created special quarantined areas for patients who may have COVID-19 or offer drive-up testing to safely evaluate patients and allow for social distancing.

In-Home Pediatric Care From DispatchHealth

Traditional medical practices have scrambled to adjust to the “new normal,” but DispatchHealth has always provided a way for pediatric patients with highly infectious conditions to safely and comfortably receive the care they need. As an urgent care provider, DispatchHealth specializes in providing in-home, on-call treatment to patients of all ages. Our medical teams are equipped to test for and treat COVID-19 symptoms as well as the flu and colds, and do so while adhering to the most stringent of safety protocols.


Requesting care from DispatchHealth is simple—just give us a call, go on our website, or use our app. We are available 365 days a year and can be at your doorstep in a matter of hours.

The DispatchHealth blog provides tips, tricks and advice for improving lives through convenient, comfortable healthcare.

Related Content

DispatchHealth’s APP Fellowship Program Receives Accreditation

DispatchHealth Earns Accreditation with Distinction for Advanced Practice Provider Transition to Practice Fellowship

In sickness & in health

Couple’s Embrace of Home-Centered Healing