Common Cold, Flu

Is it a cold or the flu?

The flu this year has been really bad: over a hundred thousand people in the US have already tested positive, and we still have months left in flu season (CDC Influenza Report, February 8th 2018). As a parent, it’s important to stay vigilant in order to keep your children healthy.

Too many parents make the assumption that their child has a cold instead of the flu, putting their children at risk for more serious illnesses like pneumonia. So how do you tell the difference, and if your child does have the flu, what should you do?

Telling the difference between a cold and a flu

The flu hits fast and it hits hard

The biggest difference between the cold and the flu is the severity of symptoms and the speed at which those symptoms show up. While the cold and flu look similar, the flu is usually much stronger. While colds can take a few days for symptoms to appear, flu symptoms show up within hours.

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The flu has a few symptoms that make it unique

Beyond just speed and severity, the flu does have some specific symptoms that you can look out for:

– Children with the flu often experience aches and get chills or sweats.

– Children are much more likely to have a fever above 101°F from the flu. (Although it is possible that a regular cold could push your child’s fever above that point)

– If your child doesn’t seem to want to participate in daily activities, like playing or going to school, it can definitely point to the flu. This is a common sign of flu-related fatigue.

What should I do if my child has the flu?

The most important thing is for them to stay well-hydrated and well-rested. Dehydration is the most common reason that a child ends up getting hospitalized with the flu, so keep pushing those fluids!

Also remember, the flu is contagious, so kids should stay home from daycare, school and other activities. Clean the surfaces in your house well, especially kitchen counters/tables, and make sure everyone in the house washes their hands really well. It can really make a difference.

Over the counter meds as needed. Your child will probably be pretty miserable and cranky if they have the flu, and for general discomfort, you may use Tylenol, Motrin, and/or a nasal saline spray as needed. When you’re doing this remember to focus not on the the number of temperature that your child has (which is an easy trap to fall into)- focus on treating the symptoms.

Prescription medication? Only sometimes. Sometimes if a doctor diagnoses your child with the flu within the first 48 of onset, they’ll prescribe Tamiflu. There are a couple of things to note about Tamiflu. Tamiflu (which has the generic name Oseltamivir) is an anti-viral drug specifically used to treat and prevent the flu. Not all doctors use Tamiflu however, because the research shows that it doesn’t cut the flu’s symptoms short by that long (only about a day), and because it can have side effects such as nausea and vomiting. Some reserve it for high-risk patients such as those under 2. Using Tamiflu definitely varies case-by-case, so don’t worry if your doctor doesn’t write your child a prescription for it.