Your child just woke up with a runny nose, an elevated temperature and body aches. Could this just be a passing cold or could it be the flu? It’s important to be able to tell the difference between the two. A common cold is usually mild and will go away on its own without treatment but the flu often requires medical attention to prevent serious complications. While an annual flu shot can protect your child from developing the flu it’s also important to know what to look for and when to visit their pediatrician for care.
Warning Signs of the Flu
Unfortunately the common cold and the influenza viruses have a lot of the same symptoms, which can make it difficult to determine what your child might have. We know that you don’t want to worry unnecessarily and rush them into the office if you don’t need to but it’s also good to know when their condition warrants medical attention.
One difference is that a cold will come on gradually over the course of a couple of days while the flu will often attack suddenly, with symptoms showing up practically overnight. While a fever isn’t a common symptom of a cold a fever is almost always present with the flu, as well as full body achiness or weakness.
Children are also more likely to deal with diarrhea or vomiting with the flu. While symptoms of a cold are usually localized to the head, flu symptoms are more widespread.
You Suspect Your Child has the Flu. Now What?
The first step is to call your pediatrician. While it can take up to a week for your child to feel better after the flu sometimes medical attention is required. It’s especially important that you talk to your doctor if your child has flu-like symptoms and they are under the age of 5, as young children are more likely to deal with health-related complications from the flu.
You’ve talked to your doctor and you now know whether you are supposed to bring them in right away for care or whether you should continue to monitor their condition before bringing them in. At this point the most important thing you can do is help reduce their discomfort and control their symptoms. Make sure they are staying hydrated and getting as much rest as possible.
Avoid giving your child over-the-counter medications, as many of these medications aren’t safe for young children and won’t be effective for treating flu symptoms. If your child has a mild fever ask your pediatrician what over-the-counter medications could help alleviate their fever. Keep in mind: Children should never take aspirin!
The sooner you seek medical attention for the flu the better, as many antiviral medications can prevent the virus from getting worse if it’s administered within the first 48 hours. This medication is often taken for 5 to 7 days and it can help ease symptoms and speed up recovery.
The key is making sure to get your child proper medical care as soon as flu-like symptoms appear. Call your children’s doctor right away.