How can I take care of my child during cold and flu season?
Cold and flu season can be a difficult time of year when it comes to your kids. Children seem to have more colds than any other type of illness. In fact, children over age 2 can have more than 10 colds per year.39 While kids usually bounce back from colds within a few days, the flu is a more serious illness. Each year, about 20,000 children under the age of 5 are hospitalized because of complications from the flu. (40) Learn the facts about the cold and flu, their symptoms, and when to get your child a flu shot. Your offers flu shots, as well as a flu nasal spray, for healthy children age 2 or older. If you think your child may have the flu, call your child’s doctor right away.
How can I keep my child from catching a cold?
Make sure your child washes his or her hands with mild soap and water when returning from public places and before eating. If you have several children in the family, try to disinfect shared toys and surfaces using nontoxic products, such as mild soap and water or baby wipes.41 Bring your own toys, coloring books and crayons to your child’s doctor’s office to avoid using any toys that have been handled by sick children. (42) Stop children from sharing straws, cups, eating utensils and toothbrushes. (43)
How can I treat my child’s cold without medication?
New rules prevent giving cold medications to some young children, so it’s good to know a few ways to relieve symptoms without using medication. These tips may be helpful for children under age 4 who cannot use decongestants, or who have trouble blowing their nose:
- Use of a cool mist humidifier can help loosen congestion.
- Nasal saline sprays or drops may help loosen a stuffy nose.
- Warm water compresses with moistened cotton balls, tissue or a soft cloth can be used to dissolve crusty areas around the nostrils.
- Apply a light dab of petroleum jelly or moisturizer around the
- nostrils if they look red from too much nose blowing or wiping.
- Make sure your child drinks plenty of liquids to help keep mucus loose.
- Getting plenty of rest can help your child recover more quickly (44-46)
Nonmedical treatments (46)
|Infants under 6 months||Use pediatric saline (saltwater) nose drops and a child’s bulb syringe to gently suck out some of the mucus every few hours.|
|Children over 1 year||Dissolve 1/2 to 1 teaspoon of honey or sugar in some warm liquid to help thin mucus and soothe a nighttime cough.|
|Children ages 6 and up||Use a cough drop or hard candy to help moisten an irritated throat and cut down on coughing.|
Which cold medications can I give my child?
- For children ages 0-6 years: Consult your child’s doctor before using any cold medications.
- For children ages 7 and up: You may use cold medications, but follow label guidelines. (47)
|Nasal decongestants||pseudoephedrine and phenylephrine||unclogs a stuffy nose|
|Cough suppressants||dextromethorphan, or DM||quiets a cough|
|Cough expectorants||guaifenesin||loosens mucus so your child can cough it up|
|Antihistamines||brompheniramine, chlorpheniramine, diphenhydramine and others||stops runny noses and sneezing|
Pain relievers/fever reducers ease fever, headaches and minor aches and pains. Some types of pain respond better to certain medications than others. (13, 14)
How do I take my child’s temperature?
There are a number of types of thermometers on the market. Whichever thermometer you choose, learn how to use it correctly. If you are unsure, ask your child’s doctor to suggest a temperature-taking method for your child.
Digital thermometers are the most common type because they provide the quickest readings. They come in many sizes and shapes. Digital thermometers can be used for these temperature-taking methods:
- Oral (in the mouth)
- Rectal (in the anus)
- Axillary (under the arm)
Guide to kids and fevers
Age to Child
When to Call the Doctor
|Infant less than 2 months||Rectal temperature of 100.5 F or greater|
|Baby ages 3-6 months||Temperature of 101 F or greater|
|Baby or child over 6 months||Temperature of 103 F or greater (49)|
Electronic ear thermometers measure the temperature inside the ear canal. Although they’re quick and easy to use in older babies and kids, they don’t give as accurate a reading as digital thermometers for infants 3 months or younger, and they cost more. Excess earwax can also affect readings. (50)
How can I make sure to give the right dose of a children’s pain reliever?
- Acetaminophen and ibuprofen do not have the same dosing guidelines. Use the weight dosing chart on the label as a guide. You can also dose by age, unless your child is light or heavy for his or her age.
- Follow the guidelines carefully on the label and don’t duplicate ingredients.
- Use the dosing device that comes with the bottle to be sure you’re giving your child the correct amount. (51)
How can I reduce my child’s fever?
Fever is a symptom that can alert you to a serious infection, or a level of dehydration that requires treatment. (52) lf your child has a fever, check with your child’s doctor before you give your child medication to lower the fever.
- Fever reducers, such as acetaminophen or ibuprofen, can be bought without a prescription. Don’t mix or switch between these medications. It’s best to stick with one or the other. Also, if your child already uses a cold product that contains more than one medication, don’t duplicate ingredients.
- Use the smallest effective amount of medication for the shortest time to reduce the risk of drug side effects. (53)
When in doubt, ask your your pharmacist to help you learn about each product, ingredients and new dosing guidelines. (54)
What are the signs that my child’s illness is probably not serious?
Your child’s illness is probably not serious if he or she:
- Still wants to play and eats and drinks well
- Looks well when his or her temperature comes down
- Is alert and smiles at you and has a normal skin color
- Has an easy time breathing
- Sleeps without waking up from a cough or nasal congestion (55,56)
When should I contact my child’s doctor?
Contact your child’s doctor if your child:
- Develops a fever, sore throat, abnormal cough or other cold-like symptoms that go on for more than 24 hours, or are not relieved by OTC medications (57)
- Complains of ear pain or pulls on the affected ear, stays in a bad mood, isn’t sleeping well or has a fever
These symptoms could signal something more serious, like an ear infection. (58)
What types of flu symptoms do children usually have?
Flu symptoms include:
- Rapid onset of a fever, with chills
- Low energy
- Dry cough
- Achy muscles and pain
Sometimes flu can cause stomachache, nausea and vomiting and, as the days go on, a sore throat/runny or stuffy nose. Infants are more prone to flu-related problems, such as dehydration, ear infections, croup, bronchitis and pneumonia. (60)
What are the possible side effects of a flu shot for children?
Most children do not have side effects from a flu shot. However, there are some possible side effects. These usually don’t last more than a few days and include:
- Soreness at the site of the shot
- Mild fever
- Minor aches
Side effects from the flu nasal spray may include:
- Runny nose
- Headaches and muscle aches
- Fever (61)
How can children reduce their chances of getting the flu?
- Teach children to cover their noses and mouths with a tissue when they cough or sneeze and to throw the tissue away after using it. Children who cough or sneeze should do so into their elbow.
- Children should wash their hands with soap and water for 15-20 seconds after they cough or sneeze. They can also use alcohol-based hand sanitizers in small amounts for in between cleanings. Keep sanitizers out of children’s reach. (61)
How can I treat my child’s flu?
You can treat flu symptoms as you would a cold. Children can take a fever reducer, such as acetaminophen or ibuprofen, to make them feel more comfortable. They may also take certain cold medications for the flu. (62)
If your child has a stomach flu with nausea, vomiting and diarrhea, make sure they keep drinking fluids. If your child is not drinking enough, his or her doctor may recommend an electrolyte solution. Electrolyte solutions replace the minerals and nutrients in your child’s body. Try giving your child a few small sips of an oral electrolyte solution every few minutes, per the recommendations on the bottle label. Electrolyte solutions now also come in freezer pops, though they should not be given to children under 1 year of age. (63)
What is whooping cough?
Whooping cough is an infection of the lungs and breathing passages. It can spread to other children quickly. The first symptoms are similar to common cold symptoms: sneezing, runny nose, slight fever and a cough that may get worse at night. However, unlike a cold, within a week or two an older child might start to have a whooping cough that gets stronger. During the next two weeks the child may become short of breath and can look bluish around the mouth. Tearing, drooling or vomiting may occur. Infants with this problem (also called pertussis) become very tired and can develop related problems such as pneumonia and seizures. (64)
Call your child’s doctor if you think he or she has whooping cough, never received a shot to prevent it, or has been exposed to someone with whooping cough. Antibiotics are usually used for two weeks, and a cool-mist vaporizer may be helpful. You can keep your child from getting whooping cough by getting him or her a DTaP shot as young as 2 months of age. (64)