Is it Covid-19 if my kid has the sniffles?

At this time of year, most parents expect children to come home from school with a cold at some point. However, since the start of the COVID-19 pandemic, some of the symptoms of a cold now seem a lot more worrying. As we still don’t know that much about how COVID-19 affects children, how can you distinguish between what is something seasonal that will quickly pass and what could be a sign of the virus?

The common cold

When children develop a cold it usually comes on gradually and the symptoms can last for up to a week. Your child might be coughing and sneezing - if they have had a cold before then the cough will probably sound a lot like last time. Other symptoms of a cold include a headache and muscle aches, a runny nose, water eyes, tiredness and a sore throat. A cold can also trigger a fever but only a low-grade one.


Some of the symptoms of COVID-19 in children are similar to a cold, including a sore throat, headache, muscle aches, a runny nose, and nasal congestion. Your child may also have a cough but the COVID-19 cough is likely to sound different to anything they have had before and a lot more uncontrolled. There are also other symptoms of COVID-19 that can help you to distinguish between this and a cold, including:

  • A loss of smell or taste
  • Nausea, vomiting and a stomach ache
  • Shortness of breath
  • A fever higher than 100.4°F
  • Unusual tiredness and intense body aches

When should you seek emergency help?

Although there is clearly some overlap between the common cold and the symptoms of COVID-19 there are also some symptoms that if you notice in your child you should get emergency help straight away. For example:

  • Your child is confused or is having trouble waking up
  • Their lips or skin have a bluish tinge
  • They are experiencing intense chest pain or a feeling of constant chest pressure

Multi-system Inflammatory Syndrome

Mortality rates for COVID-19 are a lot higher in adults and the older population, which means that we don’t tend to view the virus as a problem for our children. However, while we still don’t know that much about how COVID-19 affects children there have been instances where it has led to complications, including Multi-system Inflammatory Syndrome. If your child has symptoms that could be COVID-19 then it’s essential to look out for signs of this complication, which can be serious. Symptoms include bloodshot eyes, red cracked lips, a high fever, rash and a pain in the abdomen.

If in doubt, test

With COVID tests now so freely available there is no reason not to do a test on your child if they have symptoms that could be a sign of the virus - or have been in contact with someone who has had it. Many children catch COVID-19 but are asymptomatic but others do show signs. You’ll not only be able to handle their situation better with the knowledge of a test result but to protect others in the community who might be more vulnerable too.

Harley Street is the UK's foremost private medical centre which is dedicated to providing high-quality care for your ear, nose, throat, head & neck, and balance-related disorders. Find out more information on how Harley Street ENT can help you here.

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The Harley Street ENT clinic in London can provide all of the care that you need when you have an ear, nose, throat or balance problem. We ensure that you can get all of the right tests, treatments and advice in one convenient place.