It’s that time of year – the one where school attendance declines in relation to tissue box purchases. If your child is the one staying home with a cold or the flu, read on for some answers to parents’ frequently asked questions.
How can I determine if my child has a cold vs. the flu? Although many of the symptoms will be the same – like congestion, sore throat, cough, and fatigue – the symptoms of a cold develop far more slowly. The first symptom of a cold is usually a sore throat accompanied by some stuffiness. Flu symptoms appear suddenly and they are more severe. Tell-tale signs include nausea, chills and sweats, and a fever over 102 degrees.
How can I best keep my child comfortable? Unfortunately, no medication can treat a cold or the flu. So for kids over 6 months, stick to the old stand-bys: plenty of rest and fluids! Keep them hydrated, whether you’re giving them water, Gatorade, Pedialyte, juice, a smoothie, popsicles, hot soup, or tea. To help with congestion, keep your child’s head elevated, run a cool-mist humidifier, and give them saline nose drops to moisten the nasal passages. If your child is running a low-grade fever or has a sore throat, the American Academy of Pediatrics says that acetaminophen or ibuprofen (for kids over 6 months) can offer some relief, but be sure you check the label for the correct dosage!
Should I give my child medicine? According to the American Academy of Pediatrics, the only medications that are safe for children under 4 years old are for pain or fever: acetaminophen (e.g., children’s Tylenol) or ibuprofen (e.g., children’s Motrin). Make sure the versions you buy don’t include cough suppressants or decongestants – these are not recommended for young children and the American Academy of Family Physicians says there is little evidence that they are effective in treating children.
When should I be concerned? While in some cases, you don’t need to see a doctor for a cold or the flu, it’s important to monitor your child’s symptoms for anything alarming. According to the American Academy of Family Physicians, you should call your doctor if your child has any of the following:
A fever above 103 degrees (for children older than 6 months) or a fever that lasts for more than three days
• symptoms that last for more than 10 days
• trouble breathing, fast breathing, or wheezing
• bluish skin color
• earache or drainage from the ear
• changes in mental state (such as not waking up, irritability, or seizures)
• flu-like symptoms that improve, but return with a fever and a worse cough
• vomiting or abdominal pain