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Making Sense of Symptoms: COVID-19, the Flu, RSV, or Just a Bad Cold?

Making Sense of Symptoms: COVID-19, the Flu, RSV, or Just a Bad Cold?

It’s winter and the middle of the cold and flu season, though now it could be called the cold, flu, COVID-19, and respiratory syncytial virus (RSV) season. When your child shows symptoms like coughing, runny nose, fever, and more, it’s no longer easy to dismiss these signs as a harmless childhood illness. 

The fact is that for certain kids, influenza has always been dangerous, particularly newborns and infants. Now, though, COVID-19 and RSV complicate the seasonal illness scene. At Dr 2 Kids, Smita Tandon, MD we’re ready to help you deliver the best care for your family. That’s why we’re providing this symptom clue sheet, so that you can distinguish between the symptoms of these respiratory illnesses. 

Symptoms in common

All four of these illnesses share symptoms, those that you’ve come to expect from cold or flu. Each can produce some or all of these symptoms: 

Identifying the respiratory infection your child has depends on other symptoms through their presence or absence. 


Cold, flu, and RSV can all include sneezing as a symptom. When sneezing is absent, you can suspect that COVID-19 is the active infection.

Sore throat

Cold, flu and COVID-19 can each produce sore throat symptoms. RSV is the odd one out here. If your child has all the signs of a seasonal illness but without complaints of a sore throat, they may have RSV. 


Headaches aren’t usually part of a common cold or RSV infections. COVID-19 and the flu typically feature these. One exception to this rule is sinus headaches accompanying nasal congestion. That could be a symptom of any of the four. Take note of headache complaints when your child isn’t otherwise stuffy. 

Loss of appetite

Your child’s appetite may be unaffected when they have a cold or RSV. Both the flu and COVID-19 include loss of interest in food as a sign when they’re active. 

Loss of smell

Though it’s not always part of the COVID-19 symptom experience particularly as the virus evolves, sudden loss of smell and taste are symptoms that none of the other three respiratory illnesses generate. These senses can be dulled due to nasal congestion so things might not taste the same, but dramatic loss of smell and taste usually point to COVID-19, though children are less prone to this than adults. 

When to seek medical attention

No matter which type of infection your child has, call Dr. Tandon’s office or seek urgent medical care if they display any of the following signs and symptoms: 

Always err on the side of caution with respiratory illnesses. Dr. Tandon offers telehealth appointments, so you can consult with our team directly from your home for help in evaluating your child’s illness. Call or click to schedule your consultation today. 

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