Childhood Flu

It is hard to tell if your child has a cold or the flu. The flu is a lot like a cold, but worse. A cold usually starts with sniffling and sneezing, but the flu hits hard and fast. Your child is fine one hour, then they are in bed. A cold hardly ever causes a fever. The flu usually causes a fever.

Ear, throat, and sinus infections can come after the flu. This can be very dangerous for very young children.

Your child probably has the flu if they get these symptoms badly and suddenly:

  • Dry cough
  • Sore throat
  • Bad headache
  • Muscle aches or backache
  • Feeling very, very tired
  • Chills
  • Fever up to 104oF
  • Pain when they move their eyes, or burning eyes

Muscle aches and feeling very tired are the biggest signs of the flu. A child won’t usually have these problems with just a cold.

How to Keep Your Child from Getting the Flu have your child do these things:

  • Eat well, get plenty of rest, and exercise to stay strong and fight off the flu.
  • Wash their hands often during the day.
  • Stay away from children and adults who sneeze and cough. Have your child turn their head away when someone sneezes or coughs near them.

There are flu shots, but most children shouldn’t get them. Only children with long-term sicknesses, like heart and lung diseases, need flu shots.

Questions to Ask

Does your child have any of these problems with or after the flu?
  • Trouble breathing
  • Spitting up blood
  • Stiff neck and fever
  • Confused or unable to arouse or wake up
Yes:See Doctor
Does your child have any of these problems with the flu?
  • Earache or pulling at the ears
  • Sinus pain
  • Chest pain
  • Something thick coming from the nose, ears, or chest
Yes:See Doctor
Did a deer tick bite your child 10 days to 3 weeks before he or she got sick?Was your child in the woods or someplace
else where ticks live?(Note: Lyme disease, caused by a deer tick bite, can mimic flu symptoms.)
Yes:Call Doctor
Is your child’s fever or coughing getting worse?Yes:Call Doctor

Self-Care Tips

There’s no cure for the flu. Like a cold, it has to run its course. But you can help your child feel better, and avoid other problems. The best thing you can do is have your child rest in bed. Try these tips, too:

  • Have your child drink lots of hot drinks. (Make sure they’re not too hot.) They soothe the throat, help unplug the nose, and put back water your child loses by sweating.
  • Have your child gargle with warm, clear liquids like strong tea, warm lemonade, or warm apple juice.
  • Have your child suck on cough drops or hard candies if he or she is more than 5 years old.
  • Give your child salt water drops to help clear the nose:
    1. Mix 1/4 teaspoon salt in 1 cup water.
    2. Have your child lie down. Have them tilt their head back or over the bed.
    3. Put 3 drops of the salt water in each nostril with a clean eyedropper. (Or you can use salt water.)
    4. After a minute, have your child blow their nose. Use a cotton swab or soft rubber suction bulb to take out the mucus if your child is too young to blow.
    5. Do this over and over if you have to.

  • Put a cool-mist humidifier in your child’s room. Clean it every day.
  • Don’t let your child drink milk or eat dairy foods for a couple of days. They make mucus thick and hard to cough up.
  • Make sure your child washes their hands often. Be sure they wash their hands after blowing their nose and before touching food. This also helps stop the flu from spreading to others.
  • Give your child acetaminophen every 4 to 6 hours for fever and muscle aches.

    (Note: Do not give aspirin to anyone under 19 years old unless your doctor tells you to. Aspirin and other medicines that have salicylates have been linked to Reye’s Syndrome, a condition that can kill.)

    Your child can get Reye’s Syndrome after the flu or chicken pox. Have your child checked for infection if the fever comes back after the flu goes away.

    Also, call your child’s doctor if your child is sick with the flu longer than a week.

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    Written by American Institute for Preventive Medicine

    Explore Wellness in 2021