Enterovirus vs. Cold vs. Allergies: How to Tell Which Your Kid Is Suffering From

By now you've probably heard about enterovirus D68, or E-D68 -- a highly contagious virus that's spreading rapidly across the US. So far, hundreds of kids in 12 states have been hospitalized as they struggle to recover. Adding to the panic is that symptoms for E-D68 are remarkably similar to those for the common cold or allergies.

This may have you wondering: how the heck can you distinguish whether your child has come down with a garden-variety bug or become the next victim of this serious illness?

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"There is a lot of overlap with symptoms that make it hard to tell if it's a cold, allergy, or the enterovirus," says Dr. Glenn Harnett, chief medical officer at American Family Care. That said, "The main differentiating factor between this new virus and the common cold and allergies is it's causing more problems with the respiratory tract. Any kind of breathing difficulties seem to be the main issue: breathing too quickly, too slowly, or otherwise struggling. If someone who's never had a history of wheezing is wheezing, they need to seek treatment."

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"This virus is being called 'asthmageddon' in some emergency rooms," agrees Dr. Amy Baxter, a pediatric pain specialist at MMJ Labs. "Kids who have never wheezed before will have problems catching their breath."

Other red flags that indicate breathing problems are panting, flared nostrils, and a "pulling in" around the ribs with each breath, called "retractions," says Dr. Ashanti W. Woods, a pediatrician at Mercy Medical Center, Family Health Centers of Baltimore.

If your kids have asthma, colds and flus may already cause them to wheeze. "Only if you've used an inhaler and they're not getting better, it could be the enterovirus and you should also seek treatment," says Harnett. This is particularly important since the symptoms of EV-D68 seem to be more severe with asthma patients.

To help you suss out whether your child has enterovirus D68, the common cold, or allergies, here's a rundown of the symptoms for each scenario below:

Symptoms of enterovirus D68:
-fever (temperature of 100.4 or greater)
-sneezing
-coughing
-wheezing
-rash on arms and legs
-mouth blisters

Symptoms of a cold:
-fever (occasionally but not common)
-coughing
-runny nose
-scratchy throat

Symptoms of allergies:
-sneezing
-coughing
-runny nose
-red or itchy eyes
-itchy throat
-headache

Have your kids had any of these symptoms? Which ones?


Image © Rick Gomez/Corbis

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