Have a Cough? It Could be a Cold, Flu or Bronchitis

When your child develops respiratory symptoms like a cough, it can be difficult to gauge if it’s just the common cold, the flu or bronchitis. These illnesses have many similarities, but also have some differences.

Common Cold Symptoms

If it’s a cold, symptoms usually appear one to three days after exposure to a cold-causing virus and come on slowly. A cold may produce any or all of these:

  • Runny or stuffy nose. (The mucus may become thick and yellow or green, but this doesn’t indicate a bacterial infection.)
  • Sore throat
  • Cough
  • Congestion
  • Slight body aches or a mild headache
  • Sneezing
  • Low-grade fever
  • Generally feeling unwell (malaise)

Flu Symptoms

Influenza may seem similar to a cold, but a person with the flu will feel much worse and the symptoms come on more suddenly. Common signs and symptoms of the flu include:

  • Fever over 100.4 degrees
  • Aching muscles, especially in arms, legs and back
  • Chills and sweats
  • Headache
  • Dry, persistent cough
  • Fatigue and weakness
  • Nasal congestion
  • Sore throat

Bronchitis Symptoms

Acute bronchitis (sometimes called a ‘chest cold’) often develops from a cold or other respiratory infection like the flu. Bronchitis is caused by viruses in more than 90% of cases, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). Bacteria and chemical irritants are responsible for the remainder. Symptoms may include:

  • Nagging cough that can linger for several weeks
  • Cough that brings up mucus, which can be clear, white, yellow, green or even streaked with blood
  • Wheezing
  • Chest discomfort
  • Slight fever
  • Chills
  • Fatigue or generally feeling unwell (malaise)
  • Shortness of breath, especially with exertion

Whether a cold, flu or bronchitis, treatment is usually for symptom relief through over the counter medicine. Consult with your child’s doctor, if any of the symptoms become severe, to rule out a more serious illness.

How Respiratory Viruses Spread

Cold, flu and bronchitis causing viruses are very contagious. These viruses travel on water molecules in the air when an infected person coughs, sneezes or talks. School children spend the majority of the day in close proximity to each other, which makes it easy to catch a virus simply by breathing the same air.

Viruses are also spread when people touch something with the virus on it, and then touch their mouth, eyes or nose.

Prevention Tactics

There are a few things that can help prevent respiratory infections. Avoid close contact with an infected person. Wash hands frequently. Avoid touching your eyes, nose and mouth. Getting a flu virus vaccination can help in flu and bronchitis prevention, since influenza viruses often cause bronchitis.

You may want to explain to your child, how these respiratory infections spread and have them wash their hands first thing when they get home from school or playing outside the home.

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