If My Kid Has the Sniffles, Is it COVID or a Cold? - Chicago ENT

If My Kid Has the Sniffles, Is it COVID or a Cold?

Before COVID-19, many parents anticipated that their children would develop colds during the colder months. Typical symptoms include coughs, low-grade fever, stuffy noses, and sore throats.

But amid the pandemic, the same symptoms could be a sign of COVID-19. So, how do you tell whether your child has a cold or COVID-19?

What do you do if your kid is warm to the touch, catches a cold, or has a runny nose? While there’s still a lot of research required to completely understand how COVID-19 impacts children, present medical studies and reports reveal that kids have been mostly spared from the far-reaching complications of coronavirus.

That said, there have also been increasing incidences of severe and life-threatening illnesses like the new pediatric inflammatory multisystem syndrome that occurs after developing COVID-19. For this reason, there is a great need to understand both symptoms.

Keep reading to find out if the symptoms your child is exhibiting could be due to COVID-19 or if it’s just the sniffles from a cold!

child with a cold

Cold Symptoms

The signs of a common cold usually develop gradually and often last for about seven days. Cold symptoms in children are generally mild and include:

  • Sneezing
  • Coughing
  • Headache
  • Muscle aches
  • Stuffy or runny nose
  • Watery eyes
  • Low-grade fever
  • Unusual fatigue
  • Sore throat

Rarely will a cold need emergency care. However, it’s vital to see a pediatrician promptly if your child’s symptoms last for over ten days or they don’t improve after taking cold medications.

COVID-19 Symptoms

Novel coronavirus symptoms in children can range from mild to severe. They include:

child with a fever
  • An uncontrolled cough that’s different from their usual one
  • Sore throat
  • Body or muscle aches
  • Headache
  • Nasal congestion
  • Unusual tiredness
  • Shortness of breath
  • Runny nose
  • Chills and a fever of over 100.4°F
  • Loss of smell or taste
  • Poor appetite
  • Stomachache
  • Nausea
  • Vomiting

When to Call 911

It’s critical to seek medical help immediately if your child:

  • Has difficulty waking up
  • Becomes confused
  • Has bluish skin or lips
  • Experiences constant chest pressure or pain
crying child

Since the signs of COVID-19 heavily overlap with common cold symptoms, it’s essential to pay attention to any unusual symptoms that your child may exhibit. For instance, diarrhea accompanied by a cough or loss of smell or taste without a blocked nose isn’t typical of the common cold.

But, if your child typically has a cold around this season, it could be the culprit of what’s making them sick. Remember to be on the lookout for any symptoms of multisystem inflammatory syndrome and get medical attention as soon as possible. This potentially life-threatening condition is a complication of COVID-19 in children, and its signs include:

  • Red, cracked lips
  • High-grade fever
  • Bloodshot eyes
  • Rash
  • Pain in the abdomen

How Can You Tell If It’s COVID-19 or A Cold?

Everyone is now on high alert for COVID-19. But, you cannot say for sure whether your child has the novel coronavirus or a cold unless they have a COVID-19 test to prove it. In addition, many infected kids will not have any symptoms.

The CDC has found that children are more commonly asymptomatic or they exhibit mild symptoms when they are infected with COVID-19 and are contagious. Not every child will receive a COVID-19 test unless they display the symptoms of the disease.

To complicate issues further, asymptomatic children can spread the virus. Ultimately, you know your child best, so if they have a runny nose due to seasonal allergies, then it’s most likely nothing more concerning than that. Another potential cause is allergic rhinitis where children can experience runny nose, sniffles and itchy watery eyes.

And, an isolated mild runny nose is likely not COVID-19. Nonetheless, if you’re worried about a symptom your child has started exhibiting, it’s advisable to talk to your child’s pediatrician.

When Should You Get Your Child Tested?

Your pediatrician will help decide if your child should be tested depending on their:

  • Likelihood of exposure
  • Symptoms
  • Infection rates
  • Availability of tests in your location
  • School requirements

Additionally, the CDC encourages that children attending school in person should receive COVID-19 tests if they have:

pediatric physical exam
  • Symptoms of coronavirus
  • Loss of taste and smell in older children
  • No symptoms, but they’ve come into close contact with a person with a probable or a confirmed case of the infection

A true negative test means your child doesn’t have COVID-19, although they may still have a cold. To treat the cold, you can:

child drinking water
  • Use saline nose drops
  • Give your child a dash of lemon and a spoonful of honey mixed in warm water I children over 12 months old
  • Ensure they drink plenty of fluids and get enough rest

On the other hand, if your child does test positive for COVID-19, contact tracers can inform others who might have had earlier exposure to the virus sooner.

While your child has symptoms, keep them at home from other activities. This is essential to avoid the risk of spreading the disease.

It also gives their body ample time to rest, allowing the immune system to work and fight off the infection. Maintaining good hygiene in the house is equally important.

Frequently disinfect and clean high-touch surfaces such as faucets, doorknobs, handles, and light switches to minimize the spread of the virus. If your child has COVID-19, avoid spreading the virus to other members of your family by following CDC protocols.

The CDC recommends putting quarantine measures in place in your home. Keep your child away from other members of your family as much as possible while they are still exhibiting symptoms of COVID-19 and until they receive a negative COVID-19 test.

Protect Your Child During Cold Season

sick child in bed

The doctors here at Chicago ENT recommend that you make an appointment with us if you’re concerned about your child’s symptoms during cold season. Our board-certified pediatric otolaryngologist, Dr. Colman, will advise you if a COVID-19 test is necessary.

But if your child is experiencing symptoms that include ear, nose, and throat conditions, like breathing and airway issues, as well as sinus and nose problems, our pediatric otolaryngologist will provide world-class care and treatment after a proper diagnosis to ensure optimal health and development of your child.

Schedule an appointment with Dr. Colman at Chicago ENT in Lincoln Park, Chicago, today to discuss the right course of action for your child!


Chicago ENT has six convenient locations throughout the greater Chicago area. For the exact location and/or directions, simply click on the map next to your desired location. To book an appointment, call 773-296-5500 to speak to a scheduler or conveniently online 24/7.

Advanced Center for Specialty Care
3000 N. Halsted Street, Suite #400
Chicago, IL  60657

Phone: 773-296-5500

Office hours:
Monday 8:30 am – 5:00 pm
Tuesday 8:30 am – 6:30 pm
Wednesday 8:30 am – 5:00 pm
Thursday 8:30 am – 6:30 pm
Friday 8:30 am – 5:00 pm
Saturday 9:00 am – 12:00 pm

Allergy Shot Clinic hours:
Monday 8:30 am -4 pm
Tuesday 8:30 am - 1:30 pm
Wednesday 12:00 pm - 3:30 pm
Thursday 9:30 am – 12:00 pm
Friday 8:30 am - 1:00 pm
Saturday 9 am- 11:30 am
*Shot appointments are by appointment only
*All patient’s are required to wait 30 minutes after receiving allergy shot(s)

Map of the Chicago ENT Lincoln Park Location

St. Mary’s Hospital Professional Building
2222 W. Division Street,
Suite #330
Chicago, IL  60622

Phone: 773-296-5500
Map of the Chicago ENT Bucktown Location

8930 Gross Point Road,
Suite #700
Skokie, IL 60077

Phone: 773-262-4110
Map of the Chicago ENT Skokie Location

Our Chicago North Location is moving! Click here for more info!
Swedish Covenant Hospital
5140 N. California Avenue,
Suite #600
Chicago, IL 60625

Phone: 773-296-5500
Map of the Chicago ENT Chicago North Location

2522 W. Peterson Avenue
Chicago, IL 60659

Phone: 773-262-4110
Map of the Chicago ENT Peterson Location

St. Joseph Ascension Health Outpatient Pavilion
2845 N. Sheridan Rd,
Suite #807
Chicago, IL 60657

Phone: 773-296-5500
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