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How To Treat Your Child's Flu Symptoms

Flu season is here again and so are colds. Just one cough or sniffle might be enough for parents to start wondering if their kids are about to erupt into full-blown flu symptoms. As a parent, it isn’t always easy to tell the two apart, especially in the beginning.

Devin Minior, MD, chief medical officer at Banner Health Urgent Care, shares the differences between the two and tips for managing the flu at home.

How to Tell if It’s the Flu

“The flu and common cold are both respiratory illnesses that are caused by viruses, but the biggest difference is how fast your child feels symptoms and how bad they are,” Dr. Minior said.

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), colds are generally milder and do not result in serious health problems, such as pneumonia, bacterial infections or hospitalizations. A special test taken within the first few days of illness can help differentiate between the two.

Tips for Managing the Flu

Call the doctor. If you are concerned about your child, call their doctor and describe the symptoms to them over the phone. 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 them and prescribe an antiviral medication, like Tamiflu.

However, Dr. Minior recommends you 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
  • Dehydration—no tears with crying, dry lips and mouth and no urination in more than eight hours
  • Irritability

Encourage bed rest.

Give acetaminophen or ibuprofen for aches and pains. If they have a high fever that won’t come down with medication, call their doctor. Be conscious of other medications they are taking and consult your pharmacist with any questions.

Offer plenty of fluids. A high fever can lead to dehydration, so you can offer water, ice pops, smoothies and soft fruits to help with fluid intake.

Do your best to keep others from getting sick. Easier said than done, especially when you have little ones. Make sure everyone in the house washes their hands and covers their coughs and sneezes. Wipe down surface 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. If another child doesn’t have flu symptoms, send them to school. But, don’t send your child with the flu to school until their fever has been gone for at least 24 hours.

“Remember, it’s never too late to get your flu shot, if you haven’t already,” Dr. Minior said. “Even if you get the flu, having the vaccination can lower the severity of the illness.”

Find a Banner Health Urgent Care near you.

Children's Health Cold and Flu Infectious Disease
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