Is it the flu, a cold, allergies or COVID-19?

Every cough and sore throat has us on edge right now.

flu cold or covid

Here we go, everybody: Flu season 2020 has arrived in the midst of an ongoing pandemic, while massive wildfires in the West cause sore throats, headaches and coughs for millions. Meanwhile, seasonal allergies are kicking up similar symptoms in many parts of the country, and our old friend the common cold is, as always, on the prowl.

If it's Fall 2020, someone in your house is probably experiencing symptoms of some kind. It's enough to make even the most even-keeled parents among us sleep with a digital thermometer under the pillow... if you're sleeping at all.

It's completely understandable if every cough, sneeze, sniffle and sore throat in the household has you calling your pediatrician right now. And you should definitely pick up that phone and call if you have concerns, or if something just doesn't feel right about the symptoms your child is showing.


But it's also helpful to know that certain symptoms are common to a wide range of illnesses that are not COVID-19, and that the disease caused by the novel coronavirus has a few distinguishing symptoms that are not shared by flu, allergies or the common cold.

The chart below breaks down how the symptoms of COVID-19 differ from the symptoms of flu, cold, RSV and seasonal allergies.

covid flu cold allergies symptom chart

The most common symptoms of COVID-19, the disease caused by the novel coronavirus, are fever, coughing and difficulty breathing or shortness of breath, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). The CDC's list of symptoms also includes congestion or runny nose, nausea and diarrhea. Unfortunately for parents everywhere, all of these are also common symptoms of colds and flu.

Symptoms of the flu tend to come on suddenly rather than gradually, and include fever (100.4 degrees or higher), headache, muscle pains, cough, hives, congestion and a runny nose.

Symptoms of the common cold may be similar to the flu, but generally are milder and include cough, congestion, runny nose and sore throat. RSV, or respiratory cold virus, is a separate condition that can cause cold-like symptoms in older children, but may cause a more severe lung disease in infants called bronchiolitis.

Symptoms of seasonal allergies are sneezing, throat irritation or soreness and a congested or runny nose, perhaps with redness in the eyes or fluid buildup in the ears. It's not always easy to tell if your child has a cold or an allergy, but if there's no fever and symptoms last one week or longer, it's probably an allergy.

Symptoms that are unique to COVID-19, by contrast, include a loss of taste or smell, experienced by up to 85% of infected people according to a recent study, which also found that 50% of people with COVID-19 experience difficulty breathing. If someone in your family experiences either of these two symptoms, it's time to call your health care provider and schedule a coronavirus test. Another much less common symptom that distinguishes COVID-19 is skin lesions on the toes or hands, sometimes referred to as COVID toes, which can occur in children and adults with the virus.

If you're at all unsure, your best bet is to call your pediatrician for a diagnosis or test.

And if there's one small sliver of good news about fall 2020's pile-up of ailments with overlapping symptoms, it's that the preventative measures we can take to protect our families are straightforward, powerful multi-taskers:

Get a flu shot. Health care providers have cautioned that COVID-19 and flu have the potential to create a "twindemic" this fall, so it's more important than ever before to get that flu shot this season.

Practice cold-and-flu-season hygiene. Habitual hand-washing, along with frequent cleaning and disinfection of high-touch areas, will go a long way toward protecting your family from infectious diseases including the novel coronavirus, influenza and the common cold.

Wear that mask. Wearing masks is the top recommendation from public health experts for preventing the spread of coronavirus, and masks may also help protect your family's respiratory health if you live in an area where the air quality has been affected by fall 2020's historic fire season.

Limit exposure as much as you can. Staying home unless you need to go out, while nobody's idea of fall fun, is a protective measure against infectious diseases, air quality problems and global pandemics alike.

2020 is almost over, mamas. Let's hope it gets better from here. In the meantime, stay safe and stay healthy.

In This Article

    These challenges from Nike PLAYlist are exactly what my child needs to stay active

    Plus a fall family bucket list to keep everyone moving all season long.

    While it's hard to name anything that the pandemic hasn't affected, one thing that is constantly on my mind is how to keep my family active despite spending more time indoors. Normally, this time of year would be spent at dance and gymnastics lessons, meeting up with friends for games and field trips, and long afternoon playdates where we can all let off a little steam. Instead, we find ourselves inside more often than ever before—and facing down a long winter of a lot more of the same.

    I started to search for an outlet that would get my girls moving safely while we social distance, but at first I didn't find a lot of solutions. Online videos either weren't terribly engaging for my active kids, or the messaging wasn't as positive around the power of movement as I would like. Then I found the Nike PLAYlist.

    I always knew that Nike could get me moving, but I was so impressed to discover this simple resource for parents. PLAYlist is an episodic sports show on YouTube that's made for kids and designed to teach them the power of expressing themselves through movement. The enthusiastic kid hosts immediately captured my daughter's attention, and I love how the physical activity is organically incorporated in fun activities without ever being specifically called out as anything other than play. For example, this segment where the kids turn yoga into a game of Paper Scissors Rock? Totally genius. The challenges from #TheReplays even get my husband and me moving more when our daughter turns it into a friendly family competition. (Plus, I love the play-inspired sportswear made just for kids!)

    My daughter loves the simple Shake Ups at the beginning of the episode and is usually hopping off the couch to jump, dance and play within seconds. One of her favorites is this Sock Flinger Shake Up activity from the Nike PLAYlist that's easy for me to get in on too. Even after we've put away the tablet, the show inspires her to create her own challenges throughout the day.

    The best part? The episodes are all under 5 minutes, so they're easy to sprinkle throughout the day whenever we need to work out some wiggles (without adding a lot of screen time to our schedule).

    Whether you're looking for simple alternatives to P.E. and sports or simply need fun ways to help your child burn off energy after a day of socially distanced school, Nike's PLAYlist is a fun, kid-friendly way to get everyone moving.

    Need more movement inspiration for fall? Here are 5 ways my family is getting up and getting active this season:

    1. Go apple picking.

    Truly, it doesn't really feel like fall until we've picked our first apple. (Or had our first bite of apple cider donut!) Need to burn off that extra cinnamon-sugar energy? Declare a quick relay race up the orchard aisle—winner gets first to pick of apples at home.

    To wear: These Printed Training Tights are perfect for when even a casual walk turns into a race (and they help my daughter scurry up a branch for the big apples).

    2. Visit a pumpkin patch.

    We love to pick up a few locally grown pumpkins to decorate or cook with each year. Challenge your child to a "strongman" contest and see who can lift the heaviest pumpkin while you're there.

    To wear: Suit up your little one in comfort with this Baby Full Zip Coverall so you're ready for whatever adventures the day brings.

    3. Have a nature scavenger hunt.

    Scavenger hunts are one of my favorite ways to keep my daughter preoccupied all year long. We love to get outside and search for acorns, leaves and pinecones as part of our homeschool, but it's also just a great way to get her exercising those gross motor skills whenever the wiggles start to build up.

    To wear: It's not truly fall until you break out a hoodie. This cozy Therma Elite Kids Hoodie features a mesh overlay to release heat while your child plays.

    4. Have a touch-football game.

    Tip for parents with very little kids: It doesn't have to last as long as a real football game. 😂 In fact, staging our own mini-games is one of our favorite ways to get everyone up and moving in between quarters during Sunday football, and I promise we all sleep better that night.

    To wear: From impromptu games of tag to running through our favorite trails, these kids' Nike Air Zoom Speed running shoes are made to cover ground all season long.

    5. Create an indoor obstacle course.

    Pretending the floor is lava was just the beginning. See how elaborate your personal course can get, from jumping on the couch to rolling under the coffee table to hopping down the hallway on one foot.

    To wear: These ready-for-any-activity Dri-FIT Tempo Shorts are perfect for crawling, hopping and racing—and cuddling up when it's time to rest.

    This article was sponsored by Nike. Thank you for supporting the brands that supporting Motherly and mamas.

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