Colds and the flu - what to ask your doctor - child
What to ask your doctor about colds and the flu - child; Influenza - what to ask your doctor - child; Upper respiratory infection - what to ask your doctor - child; URI - what to ask your doctor - child; Swine flu (H1N1) - what to ask your doctor - child
Many different germs, called viruses, cause colds. Symptoms of the common cold include:
- Runny nose
- Nasal congestion
- Sore throat
The flu is an infection of the nose, throat, and lungs caused by the influenza virus.
Below are some questions you may want to ask your child's health care provider to help you take care of your child with a cold or the flu.
What are the symptoms of a cold? What are the symptoms of the flu? How can I tell them apart?
- Will my child have a fever? How high? How long will it last? Can a high fever be dangerous? Do I need to worry about my child having febrile seizures?
- Will my child have a cough? Sore throat? Runny nose? Headache? Other symptoms? How long will these symptoms last? Will my child be tired or achy?
- How will I know if my child has an ear infection? How will I know if my child has pneumonia?
- How will I know if my child has swine flu (H1N1) or another type of flu?
Can other people become sick from being around my child? How can I prevent that? What should I do if I have other young children at home? How about somebody who is elderly?
When will my child start to feel better? When should I worry if my child's symptoms have not gone away?
What should my child eat or drink? How much? How will I know if my child is not drinking enough?
What medicines can I buy at the store to help with my child's symptoms?
- Can my child take aspirin or ibuprofen (Advil, Motrin)? How about acetaminophen (Tylenol)?
- Can my child take cold medicines?
- Can my child's doctor prescribe stronger medicines to help the symptoms?
- Can my child take vitamins or herbs to make the cold or flu go away quicker? How do I know if the vitamins or herbs are safe?
Will antibiotics make my child's symptoms go away faster? Are there medicines that can make the flu go away faster?
How can I keep my child from getting a cold or the flu?
- Can children have flu shots? What time of year should the flu shot be given? Does my child need one or two flu shots every year? What are the risks of the flu shot? What are the risks for my child by not getting a flu shot? Does the regular flu shot protect my child against swine flu?
- Will a flu shot keep my child from getting colds all year long?
- Can being around smokers cause my child to get the flu more easily?
- Can my child take vitamins or herbs to prevent the flu?
When people started saying that you shouldn't use decongestant, antihistamine, or cough suppressants in kids under 6 or maybe even kids under 12, parents started asking me lots of questions. What do you do when your child has a cold? It's like you've tied both hands behind our backs. I'm Doctor Alan Greene and I'd like to start answering that question. The first thing is, it's not that the doctors are trying to hold back the good stuff. Studies have shown that those things just don't work in children. Children aren't the same as adults, and even though some studies have shown affect in grown-ups before puberty, there's very little evidence that they are helpful and they can cause side effects. There is evidence though that other things help for instance for cough, plain old honey - a spoon full of honey works better than DM cough syrup. Of course you want to save honey for kids over one because of concerns about botulism in babies. Cough drops are another thing that can really help for coughs and for sore throats. When sucking on a cough drop, it can help increase saliva production and antibodies and reduce cough - great thing to do for kids who are old enough that you're sure that they are not going to choke on it, usually four and above. For congestion you might try saline nose washes or saline nose drops can be helpful and shown in some studies to help, and in a number of studies steam has been shown to help, too. You can use a hot shower or a vaporizer if the child is not at an age when they will run over and trip and scald themselves. And if they are at an age of concern, you can get a little personal vaporizer. You can supervise and put their face over it and inhale the steam that way. There are a number of herbs that have been shown to help in different ways, too. Echinacea has been shown in some studies to be helpful for cold and flu. Valerian root for helping kids sleep when they have a cold. Zinc the mineral has been shown to be helpful in colds when kids are zinc deficient and many American kids are, so there are a lot of things you can try but whatever you do try, within a week or so your child's life will be back to normal and it's not worth trying anything that might cause dangerous side affects.
Centers for Disease Control and Prevention website. Flu: what to do if you get sick.
Centers for Disease Control and Prevention website. Key facts about seasonal flu vaccine.
Havers FP, Campbell AJP. Influenza viruses. In: Kliegman RM, Stanton BF, St Geme JW, Schor NF, eds. Nelson Textbook of Pediatrics. 20th ed. Philadelphia, PA: Elsevier; 2016:chap 258.
Miller EK, Williams JV. The common cold. In: Kliegman RM, Stanton BF, St Geme JW, Schor NF, eds. Nelson Textbook of Pediatrics. 20th ed. Philadelphia, PA: Elsevier; 2016:chap 379.
Last reviewed on: 10/18/2017
Reviewed by: Neil K. Kaneshiro, MD, MHA, Clinical Professor of Pediatrics, University of Washington School of Medicine, Seattle, WA. Also reviewed by David Zieve, MD, MHA, Medical Director, Brenda Conaway, Editorial Director, and the A.D.A.M. Editorial team. 10-28-19: Editorial update.