Schools here in Michigan and across the country are weighing the risks of whether to reopen for in-person learning this fall in the midst of the COVID-19 pandemic. Although children are at lower risk of getting extremely ill from the coronavirus, parents should be aware of the possible symptoms in order to keep teachers, staff and other students safe. 

It is complicated, because the symptoms of COVID-19 are very similar to those of the flu, allergies and the common cold. So, how do you tell the difference?

Here are some clues to help you assess your child’s illness.

The major signs of COVID-19 are a high fever, dry cough, and shortness of breath. These symptoms show up 2 to 14 days after exposure to the coronavirus. Another revealing sign is a loss of taste or smell.

The symptoms of the flu come on much quicker and also include fever and coughing. It’s accompanied by a sore throat, muscle and body aches, headaches, and fatigue.

In general, colds are milder and you’re more likely to have a runny or stuffy nose and sneezing, but usually no fever. Colds come on gradually.

And, seasonal allergies are marked by sneezing, itchy or watery eyes, and a runny nose. The key here is that the symptoms are centered on the eyes, nose and throat. They don’t affect the entire body, like the COVID-19 symptoms.

Of course, if you are still concerned, take your child to your health professional for an evaluation.

What’s the best way to treat symptoms of the cold, flu and allergies?

The treatment for colds and flu are the same: get plenty of rest and drink lots of fluids. Over-the-counter medications are helpful. And of course, a vaccine is available to help prevent the flu. If your child has allergies, keep your windows closed as much as possible and have them change clothes after being outdoors.

Are there also differences in how long these illnesses last?

As we are learning, recovery from COVID-19 can take several weeks, or months in some severe cases. The flu lasts from three to seven days in most people. A cold gets better in about a week to ten days. And, allergies won’t go away until they’re treated or until the seasons change.