Does Your Child Have the Flu or a Cold?

Is your child’s cold or flu virus taking a turn for the worst? Here’s when you’ll need to have your child’s illness further assessed by a doctor.

At this time of the year we hear a lot about the flu season. Or is it the cold season? Sometimes it’s difficult to discern the difference between the two, after all both are caused by a virus and some of the symptoms are the same. Pediatrician Dr. William James agrees that while there are some similarities between the two, there are also significant differences. “The common cold is basically when you feel a little achy, have a runny nose and a general feeling of malaise. Usually with a common cold you get a low grade fever, whereas with the flu, kids are usually much more ill, they ache all over, they may not have a runny nose but every part of their body aches.”

If it is the flu, Dr. James recommends bed rest, fluids, and giving your child “a little Ibuprophen. It works well by taking away the aches and pains and works on the fever.”

Whether it’s a cold or flu, secondary infections can sometimes set in such as pneumonia or bronchitis, and in that case you’ll want to have your child further assessed. “If a youngster is getting worse, if their sense of well being is getting worse, they have an uncontrolled fever, are hallucinating, these are some of the signs that suggest that there may be something more than just the flu going on,” explains James. “They should be seen by their physician or emergency department. Sometimes you don’t realize that they may have a touch of pneumonia or other serious infections and will need a little more aggressive work up.”

Physician, Dr. Marjorie Keymer agrees that “if your child has the symptoms of the flu, seems to be getting better then suddenly takes a turn for the worse, spiking a higher fever, getting a more productive cough, generally looking sicker, your child may have developed one of the complications of the flu. The most common complication is pneumonia and the second most common complication is kidney disease. The one you’re most apt to recognize is the pneumonia with a much more productive cough and a higher fever.”

What about preventing all of this with the flu vaccine? Generally, it’s now recommended that all children 6 months and older receive the flu vaccine, so it may be wise to discuss the flu vaccine with your child’s doctor and consider vaccination in the fall.


Adapted from The Parent Report Radio Show. Any advice or information contained herein should never be a substitute for professional and/or medical advice, diagnosis and treatment. For more information please review Terms of Service.

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