It can be tough to tell what is wrong with young children when they’re suffering from an illness. Many sicknesses have very similar symptoms, making it easy to incorrectly diagnose your child. Two of the most easily confusable illnesses are the common cold and the flu.

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How To Tell If Your Child Has The Flu

Because many of the flu symptoms are shared with other illnesses, it’s important to determine as soon as possible which illness your child has. Below are a few telltale signs that your child is suffering from the flu.

  • If the onset of your child’s illness was sudden and not slow, there’s a greater chance it’s the flu instead of a cold.
  • A high fever is a strong symptom of the flu. Mild fevers may be symptomatic of something else.
  • A decrease in appetite is a telltale sign that your child is suffering from the flu.
  • Achy muscles, a headache and chills are also a strong sign of the flu.

Other illnesses that can share similar symptoms include strep throat and pneumonia. If your child begins to have difficulty breathing, begins to seem confused or has a headache that continues to worsen, he or she should be taken to a medical facility immediately.

When young children are suffering from the flu, they will feel sluggish and suffer from fatigue. A doctor will likely recommend your child get plenty of fluids and rest. One way to prevent your child from catching the flu is to take him or her to get a flu vaccine. It’s also a good idea to teach your child to avoid sharing food and drinks with other kids in their class, as this is one of the key ways the flu is spread.


The Common Cold Versus The Flu

While the initial symptoms can seem very similar, the cold and the flu are two very different illnesses. A cold is more of a mild, respiratory illness, while the flu is something that will keep you down and out for weeks. The flu can also result in complications like pneumonia and hospitalizations. To better understand the difference between the cold and the flu, here are the symptoms you’ll experience.


Symptoms of the cold

  • Sore throat which goes away within two days
  • Nasal symptoms: runny nose and congestion
  • A cough towards the end of the illness
  • Fever is possible, but unlikely


Symptoms of the flu

  • Cold-like symptoms, including sore throat, congestion and cough
  • Muscle aches and soreness
  • Vomiting and diarrhea


Cold symptoms typically last around a week, with the first three days being the most contagious. During those first few days, it’s important to stay at home. If your cold symptoms persist for more than a week, check with your doctor to determine if you’ve developed an allergy or sinusitis.

For the flu, symptoms are more intense, but last only two to five days. However, because of the intense symptoms, you may feel run down for more than a week. If you begin to notice shortness of breath alongside your flu symptoms, seek medical attention immediately as this could be a sign of pneumonia.


How To Prevent The Flu

Everyone enjoys the cooling temps, fall foliage and approaching holidays; however, the ensuing flu season is not nearly as welcome. Kids who are in school or daycare are at a much higher risk of catching the flu than those that stay at home. To ensure your child stays healthy this flu season, there are some tips you can keep in mind.


Get Your Child Vaccinated

Although the vaccine is not 100% successful in preventing the flu (according to the latest numbers, it is actually 62% effective), it can certainly reduce your child’s chance of getting sick. Even if your child does end up with the flu, the vaccine can help shorten the illness and keep symptoms mild.


Teach Them Good Etiquette

Because the flu can spread as much as 6 feet when a child coughs or sneezes, it’s important that your child covers their mouth and nose with a tissue. Make sure your child knows to throw the tissue away afterward and to then wash their hands.


Keep Everything Clean

This probably sounds impossible with a child, but it’s smart to wipe down toys, handles, counter tables, phones and TV remotes regularly. The flu virus can live up to 8 hours on surfaces, so keeping everything in your home as clean as possible will prevent it from spreading. Hot soapy water or a cleaning product works best.


Diet, Exercise and Rest

One of the best ways your child can stay flu-free this season is to eat right, exercise daily and get enough rest each night. For school-age children, adequate rest is at least 10 hours, while toddlers need a minimum of 12 hours each night. Your children’s diet should include plenty of fruits, vegetable, milk and water. Also, it’s important your child gets at least an hour of physical activity each day.


Is The Flu Shot Right For Your Child?

Many people are skeptical about getting the flu shot themselves, let alone taking their child to get one. While there is a remote chance of your child having a negative reaction to the flu shot, the pros far outweigh the cons when it comes to the vaccine. In order to know whether or not the flu shot is right for your child, it’s important to know why the shot is recommended in the first place.


Why Your Child Should Get Vaccinated

The flu is a highly contagious disease that peaks between October and May each year. Typically, the flu is spread by coughing, sneezing and close contact. Symptoms of the flu include fever, sore throat, muscle aches, fatigue, cough, headache and runny nose. If your child gets the flu shot, it can:

  • Prevent your child from getting the flu
  • Lessen the severity of the flu if your child gets it
  • Keep your child from spreading the flu to others if he or she gets it

Who Should Not Get The Flu Shot?

While the flu shot is beneficial to most people, there are some people who should not get this vaccine. If your child has a severe, life-threatening allergy, he or she should not get vaccinated. Also, if your child is not feeling well, the shot should be delayed temporarily. While this affects very few people, those who have suffered Guillain-Barré Syndrome before should avoid the vaccine all together.

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If you believe your child is suffering from the flu, Medical City Children’s Urgent Care pediatricians can quickly diagnose and treat symptoms – even after hours and weekends.


Disclaimer: Patients’ health can vary. Always consult with a medical professional before taking medication, making health-related decisions or deciding if medical advice is right for you or your child.


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