Uh oh! Your little one is running a high fever. It’s influenza season, so could your child have the flu? Or could it possibly be COVID-19 or another cold?
The flu is different from COVID-19 and the common cold, but it’s not always easy to tell them apart, especially in the beginning. The biggest clue, however, is how fast your child feels symptoms and how bad they are.
How to tell if your child has the flu
“Symptoms are similar in both adults and children and usually come on suddenly with a fever, body aches, headache, sore throat, cough, fatigue and runny or stuffy nose,” said Devin Minior, MD, chief medical officer at Banner Urgent Care. “Not everyone has all these symptoms, and the illness can range from mild to severe.”
[Also read “Flu Myths and Facts.”]
The best way to rule out other illnesses is to check in with your child’s health care provider and describe your child’s symptoms. Based on the symptoms and your child’s underlying health conditions or problems, they may recommend you bring your child in and may want to prescribe antiviral medication.
“Antiviral medications like Tamiflu are available for children, and they should be considered in those with moderate to severe symptoms or those that may develop complications from flu,” Dr. Minior said. “These medications work best when started within two days of symptoms starting.”
How to safely treat a child’s flu symptoms at home
When your child gets the flu, it’s certainly not a walk in the park. It can be overwhelming to figure out how to treat your child’s symptoms at home to keep them comfortable.
But don’t worry. We’ve got it covered. Here are eight tips to treat flu symptoms in kids at home.
Stock up on supplies
It’s always helpful to make sure you’re fully stocked with everything you’ll need before heading into cold and flu season. You don’t want to make a midnight run to the pharmacy when you need something in a hurry.
These items can make getting through the flu season easier for you and the family:
- Acetaminophen or ibuprofen
- Saline drops
- Hand soap and hand sanitizer
- Honey (for children older than 1 year old) and natural cough drops or cough suckers (for children at least preschool age)
- Plenty of fluids, these can include water, popsicles and broth
Encourage bed rest
Children can greatly benefit from extra rest. Try to limit screen time, so they can focus on sleeping.
Give acetaminophen or ibuprofen for aches and pains
A high fever is a hallmark symptom of the flu and can make your child feel hot and sweaty, and they might shiver to generate more body heat to fight the virus.
You can give them things like Tylenol or Motrin to help with discomfort and fever. Make sure you never give your child aspirin because it can increase their risk of developing Reye’s syndrome.
At any point you have questions about dosage and medicines, don’t hesitate to call or message your child’s provider or reach out to your local pharmacist.
Offer plenty of liquids
A high fever can lead to dehydration, so you want to offer water, ice pops or popsicles, smoothies, warm broths and soft fruits to help with fluid intake.
If your child is refusing to eat or drink, you may have to get a little more creative. Sometimes something new and novel like a cup with their favorite character on it or a twirly straw in it is all it takes.
Contact your child’s provider if your child starts to show the following signs of dehydration:
- Dry tongue and dry lips
- No tears when crying
- Fewer than six wet diapers a day
- Sunken soft spot on your infant’s head
- Sunken eyes
- Dry and wrinkled skin
- Deep, rapid breathing
- Cool and blotchy hands and feet
Avoid contact with others
This can be easier said than done, especially when you have tiny little ones.
Make sure everyone in the house washes their hands and covers their coughs and sneezes. Wipe down surfaces and toys regularly and discourage the sharing of cups, utensils, towels and blankets.
Although you may be tempted to quarantine everyone in the house, keep the family at a distance. Discourage visitors from coming over for a visit as well.
[Also check out “Do You Keep Siblings Home When Another is Sick.”]
Wait a few days before sending them back to school or preschool
Your child can return to daycare, preschool or school after their fever is gone for 24 hours and they’re feeling up to it. This doesn’t mean they can’t go until their cough or runny nose is gone, but you don’t want to send them if their coughing and nose blowing is a disruption to their learning and other students learning.
Watch for warning signs
If you’re concerned about your child, contact their health care provider and describe the symptoms to them. Based on symptoms and your child’s risk of developing flu-related complications (i.e., those younger than 2 years old, a chronic condition like asthma, lung or heart diseases and cancer), they may want to see your child and prescribe an antiviral medication, like Tamiflu.
However, Dr. Minior said to seek immediate medical attention if your child has the following symptoms:
- Return of flu-like symptoms with worsening fever or cough
- Fast or troubled breathing
- Cyanosis, a bluish coloration of the skin
- Not alert or interacting with you
- Fever above 104 degrees Fahrenheit
Protect your family from the flu
The flu vaccine is a safe and effective way to protect yourself and your family from flu infection. It’s especially important for children, ages 6 months to 5 years, children with chronic medical conditions that put them at higher risk, care providers of children and people who are pregnant or nursing.
The flu vaccine takes a couple of weeks after getting vaccinated but can help teach your body’s immune system how to protect itself from the virus. This is why getting vaccinated before the flu season starts spreading can help keep your family healthy.
If your child is starting to show signs of the flu, contact your child’s health care provider. Depending on your child’s symptoms, they may want to see them in their office.
Once you have a proper diagnosis, there are several things you can do at home to keep your child comfortable through their illness. The most important things are keeping their fevers down, hydration and rest.