ATLANTA — Common colds share many symptoms of the coronavirus, so if your child becomes ill as the school year gets underway, it might be difficult to immediately tell whether it's COVID-19, said CNN medical analyst Dr. Leana Wen.
Adults catch the common cold around two to three times a year, and children get it even more frequently, according to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
Most people recover in seven to 10 days from the cold, but it can take longer if they have weakened immune systems, the CDC noted.
Some shared symptoms of COVID-19 and the common cold include a sore throat, fatigue and a headache, according to Wen.
Coughing is another common symptom of both viruses, although according to the Mayo Clinic, the COVID-19 cough tends to be drier.
When children contract COVID-19, they tend to have milder symptoms than adults, Wen added.
"I would encourage parents to have a high index of suspicion and to definitely not send your child to school if they are not feeling themselves and have any symptoms that could be COVID-19," she said.
Symptoms specific to COVID-19 include loss of smell or taste, Wen said.
With some severe common cold cases, someone could lose their sense of smell or taste due to nasal congestion, she explained. However, with COVID-19 you often lose your sense of smell or taste early and prior to nasal congestion, Wen added.
People who've contracted COVID-19 may also suffer from diarrhea and nausea or vomiting, symptoms that are never present if it's only the common cold, according to the Mayo Clinic.
COVID-19 and the common cold are also caused by different viruses. COVID-19 is contracted from SARS-CoV-2, while the common cold can result from rhinoviruses, the Mayo Clinic noted.
Get your child tested
If you suspect your child has COVID-19, the most important thing is to not send them to school, Wen cautioned.
"I'm sure no parent would want to have other kids in the class become infected or their classmates' family members, or for the class to have to shut down because their child is symptomatic and may have spread it to others," Wen said.
The next step Wen recommended is to get your child tested for COVID-19.
Testing is much more readily available than it was a year ago, she said, and parents should contact their pediatricians for options.
Wen said she expects COVID-19 testing options to be localized, meaning the best places to get tested change depending on where you live. In some instances, local clinics may have availability, or children can go to testing sites run by their county health department.
Avoid the doctors for mild symptoms
For children with mild COVID-19 symptoms, Wen recommended parents think twice before heading to the doctor.
"If you have mild symptoms, if it's COVID or any other viral illnesses, you should not be going into a doctor's office unless you have talked to your pediatrician and they are requesting that you come in," Wen said.
If you are symptomatic, Wen said, you could transmit it to someone else by going in.
Get your child vaccinated
Children 12 and older are eligible to receive the COVID-19 vaccine, and Wen recommended parents take their kids to get vaccinated immediately.
It takes two doses plus two weeks before the two-dose vaccines offer maximum protection.
For parents, getting kids vaccinated is "the best way of preventing their adolescent from contracting COVID-19 on the front end and potentially missing school and other social activities with their friends," Wen said.