Expert Advice -- Cold or Flu: 10 Ways to Tell the Difference

As the flu season comes upon us and our children seem to have the endless runny nose and cough, the question often comes up as to whether they have the flu or not. Deciding this is difficult even for pediatricians, because the symptoms of the flu can be somewhat variable in children. There is a test that can be done, but it takes about a week to get the results, which makes the utility of it minimal. Therefore, the diagnosis of the flu is generally made by assessing the signs and symptoms in your child, as well as knowing whether the flu virus has arrived in your town. The table below will help you assess the likelihood that your child's symptoms may be caused by the flu. And by checking with Centers for Disease Control or your local hospital, you can find out if the flu has officially hit your town.

As always, it is a good idea to keep in close contact with your health care provider if you feel your child has the flu, but hopefully the following table can lend some assistance for all you parent-warriors battling this cold and flu season.

The Common Cold

  • Cause: Multiple viruses can do it
  • When: Anytime of the year
  • How Spread: Droplets from nose and throat
  • Incubation: Can be up to 2 weeks
  • Fever: Occasionally
  • Chills: Rarely
  • Muscle Aches: Occasionally
  • Headaches: Occasionally
  • Sore Throat: Mild and intermittent
  • Cough: Common
  • Diarrhea: Can be common
  • Vomiting: Can be common
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