Nurse checks preschool age girl's temperature

It’s that time of year again. Kids get sick, and the questions start swirling in your head: Is it a cold? Is it the flu? What should I do?

Both the flu and the common cold are caused by viruses. The common cold causes a runny or stuffy nose, fatigue, mild aching, a mild sore throat and possibly a cough. These symptoms come on gradually and may last about a week. On the other hand, flu symptoms are more likely to come on suddenly and increase quickly. Symptoms of the flu, commonly Influenza A, are more significant and frequently include a fever (most, but not everyone, with the flu will run a fever), body aches, a headache, chills, nasal congestion, a cough and more severe fatigue that may last up to two weeks.

Treatment of both a cold and the flu are similar:

  • Stay home to get rest and to avoid spreading your illness.
  • Hydrate, hydrate, hydrate. Drink plenty of fluids. The best way to keep mucus from turning thick is to keep well-hydrated.
  • Take acetaminophen or ibuprofen for the fever and aches. Never give aspirin to a child younger than 19 who has the flu.
  • Sleep while propped up a little perhaps to help with a nighttime cough.
  • Use saltwater nose drops or nasal spray perhaps to help with nasal congestion.
  • Avoid over-the-counter cough and cold medicines, as they are not recommended for children, and there is no evidence they are effective.

Call your child’s doctor if (a) symptoms persist for longer than one week or are getting worse, (b) fever rises above 100.4 degrees for a child less than 3 months old or a persistent fever is higher than 102 degrees in an older child or (c) any wheezing, shortness of breath or vomiting won’t stop.

As always, call your doctor if you have any concern or if your child seems “off.” Although antiviral medicine may help shorten the duration of the flu, it must be started within the first 48 hours of symptoms being noticed.

Even though flu shots are not 100 percent effective, they do help in preventing the disease or making your symptoms milder if you do get the flu. Get a flu shot every year. Many children die from the flu every season, most of whom are unvaccinated. Don’t let your child be next. 

For more information, visit mercy.net/laduenews.

Dr. Joseph Kahn is president of Mercy Kids (mercykids.org), an expansive network of pediatric care dedicated to meeting the needs of every child, every day.

Dr. Joseph Kahn is president of Mercy Kids (mercykids.org), an expansive network of pediatric care dedicated to meeting the needs of every child, every day.