While your child can have the flu — which is short for influenza — at any time of the year, most cases occur during flu season, which lasts from early fall to early spring and peaks in the mid-winter months. And while everyone is different, symptoms often include intense fever, tiredness, and achiness.
As a parent, it can be frightening whenever your child is sick. However, Nicolette Marak, MD, and the staff at Ross Bridge Medical Center Pediatrics can help you care for your child. Our professional and compassionate staff can help you determine your child’s needs and whether medical treatment is necessary.
Knowing how to identify flu symptoms and provide care can help you make your child feel better as quickly as possible. In this blog, Dr. Marak discusses common flu symptoms and what you can do to ensure your child’s well-being when the flu strikes.
How the flu spreads
The flu, or influenza, is a viral infection that attacks the respiratory system, which includes the lungs, nose, and throat. The disease is highly contagious and usually spreads through respiratory droplets shed by an infected person when they cough or sneeze.
Your child can catch the flu by inhaling the droplets in the air. They can also become ill after touching an infected surface and then putting their hands into their mouth, nose, or eyes.
Because the flu is highly contagious and can cause serious complications in some children, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention advises that everyone aged 6 months and older get an annual flu vaccine, preferably by the end of October. Unfortunately, it’s still possible to catch the flu after being immunized, because your child may get a strain that wasn’t included in the vaccine.
Symptoms of the flu
Children with the flu typically experience one or more of the following symptoms quickly and intensely:
- Fever, usually above 100.4°F
- Sore throat
- Body aches
- Stuffy, runny nose
- Dry, hacking cough
- Nausea and vomiting
Furthermore, the flu differs from the common cold, because symptoms are often more intense, last longer, and occur faster. Furthermore, the fever is usually higher than the one caused by the common cold.
Treating flu symptoms
While most children don’t require treatment for the flu, it can be frightening to see your child experience this illness. If your child has symptoms of the flu, don’t hesitate to call our office immediately to discuss their illness.
For most children, we advise the following steps to help them feel better if they have the flu:
- Encourage them to get sleep and bed rest
- Dress your child in layers to handle transitions between feeling hot and cold
- Administer over-the-counter medications, such as ibuprofen and acetaminophen, to reduce symptoms
- Keep your child hydrated with water, unsweetened juice, or clear soup
- Treat a stuffy nose with saline drops or a humidifier
- Offer ice pops to soothe a sore throat
Depending on your child’s condition, treatment with antiviral medication may be appropriate. This type of medication, which can shorten the duration and intensity of the flu, works best when administered within 1-2 days of the onset of symptoms.
While most children recuperate from the flu in about two weeks without complications, it’s possible to develop serious health issues, such as pneumonia, bronchitis, and sinus infections.
All children have the highest risk of developing complications from the flu from age 6 months until they turn age 5. At any age, having one of the following health conditions can increase your child’s risk of developing flu complications:
- Chronic lung disease
- Neurological and neurodevelopmental disorders, such as cerebral palsy, epilepsy, or muscular dystrophy
- Heart disease
- Sickle cell disease or another blood disorder
- Kidney disorders
- Liver disorders
- Inherited metabolic disorders
If your child has one of these conditions, it’s important to contact our office to discuss the effect the flu can have on your child and whether it can impact the management of your child’s underlying condition.
Recognizing the need for treatment
If your child doesn’t show signs of improvement from flu symptoms within a week, contact our office to discuss the next steps and whether an examination is recommended.
If your child experiences symptoms that include shortness of breath, dehydration (dark or decreased urine, sunken eyes, dry lips), unwillingness to drink, or becomes unresponsive, seek emergency medical care immediately.