December 4, 2018
Is it a cold or the flu?
Diagnose. Prevent. Care.
Flu season begins in the fall and lasts through February. Lots of kids miss school, and parents have to care for their little ones every step of the way. But how do you know how serious it is? And how can you tell the difference between a cold and the flu? They are both caused by different viruses, but have similar symptoms. It is not always easy to tell the difference.
Details Are the Secret to Diagnosing
According to the CDC, flu symptoms can result in serious health problems. Symptoms include fever, feeling chills, cough, sore throat, runny or stuffy nose, muscle or body aches, headaches, and tiredness. Cold symptoms are more likely to include a runny or stuffy nose.
See this helpful chart for reference:
As always, families should feel free to contact their health care provider. Many Indiana hospitals also offer nurse help lines that can help identify when to stay home or head to a doctor’s office. Read more below about caring for children sick with the cold and flu.
Prevention Protocols Keep Sick Days Away
Children younger than six months are at highest risk.
Babies younger than six months are at high risk of serious flu complications, but they are too young to get a flu vaccine. Because vaccines are not approved for babies younger than six months old, families should focus on protecting them from the virus.
The best way to protect young children and infants who cannot get vaccinated is to make sure the people who care for them are vaccinated. By getting vaccinated, you are less likely to get the flu and, therefore, less likely to spread the flu to a child.
Don’t spread germs!
By getting vaccinated, you will be less likely to get the flu and therefore less likely to spread the flu to a child.
- Keep yourself and your little ones away from people who are sick as much as you can.
- If you think you are experiencing flu symptoms, avoid being around other people when possible.
- Cover your nose and mouth with a tissue when you cough or sneeze. Throw the tissue away after you use it, and wash your hands.
- Wash your hands often with soap and water, especially after you cough or sneeze. If you are not near water, use an alcohol-based hand cleaner.
- Try not to touch your eyes, nose, or mouth. Germs often spread this way.
- Clean and disinfect frequently touched areas, like door handles, phones, and counters. Especially when someone is ill.
Caring for a Sniffling and Sick Baby, Toddler, or Preschooler
Are you caring for a little one sick with a cold or the flu?
If it’s the flu, you should seek medical attention. Children under five — and especially under two — are at high risk of flu complications.
Your child should also avoid contact with other people and stay home unless they are visiting a doctor. Follow these tips for home care:
- Avoid face-to-face contact.
- When holding your child, place their chin on your shoulder. That way, they can’t cough in your face.
- Make sure to wash your hands after touching your little one. Also, wash thoroughly after handling their tissues or dirty clothes, blankets, and sheets.
If your child has a cold, symptoms last a week or two and are usually clear on their own. Children under three months must go to the doctor. If your child is over 6 months old, you don’t have to treat their fever. But if their fever makes them uncomfortable, treat their symptoms with children’s-formula acetaminophen (Tylenol) or ibuprofen (Advil, Motrin). Children under 6 years old should not take cough medicine.
For home care:
- Clear mucus with tissues
- Give them lots of fluids
- Provide moisture for their air passages, like a child-safe humidifier or nasal spray or sitting next to a hot shower
- Rub petroleum jelly on their nose to prevent chapping
- Encourage them to sleep and rest
- Raising their head with a pillow can help alleviate congestion
Keep an eye on the symptoms.
Pay close attention for signs of respiratory illness. If your child develops a fever; has shallow, slow or rapid breathing; or is less responsive than normal, contact your child’s doctor.
Seek medical attention if your child has any of the following symptoms:
- Difficulty breathing or shortness of breath
- Purple or blue discoloration of the lips
- Pain or pressure in the chest or abdomen
- Sudden dizziness
- Severe or persistent vomiting
- Flu-like symptoms that improve but then return with fever and worse cough
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