Doctor, is it the flu?

We’re enjoying a true, crisp Fall day today and it’s absolutely lovely. Yes, I forgot my coat and shivered while walking my children to their classes (thankfully, I remembered theirs), but I’ve been waiting for Fall….and it’s finally here!

With Fall and Winter comes plenty of colds and of course, the dreaded flu.

I often field numerous questions and concerns from parents when their little ones come down with coughs, runny noses, and fever. Most of them want to know…Doctor, is it the flu?

Oftentimes, it can be hard to differentiate the common cold from the flu. Hopefully, after reading this, you’ll have a better idea if it’s truly the flu you are dealing with.

What you’ll see with regular run of the mill colds:

Upper respiratory infections, aka colds, are caused by several different types of viruses. What you’ll see in your child is the gradual onset of a runny/congested nose, a cough, and possibly a low grade fever.

Your child may still have plenty of energy, eat and drink as usual, and sleep just fine throughout the duration of her cold. Sometimes, the congestion and cough may make sleeping difficult and in those cases running a cool mist humidifier in her room, using saline nose drops with a bulb suction, and giving her 1/2-1 teaspoon of honey if she’s over 1 year old for her cough will help alleviate these mild symptoms.

The typical cold lasts between 7 to 10 days and aside from being a little annoying, your child will look and act fine.

Now…here comes the flu:

The flu hits much harder and with more intensity. Your previously well child may suddenly wake up with a high fever of 103 F without any previous symptoms or warning.

He will likely look extremely tired, will be irritable, and will likely have a decreased appetite. He may or may not have mild congestion and sore throat. If he develops a cough, it is usually of the dry/hacking variety versus in the common cold, where it’s more “wet” sounding. Symptoms of runny nose, sneezing, and cough are NOT as pronounced in the flu as it is for the common cold.

Older children will tell you that they feel achy and may complain of headaches.

Again, a virus is the culprit here (different influenza viruses). Most healthy children will recover from the flu within 7 to 10 days

If you think it’s the flu, keep your child as comfortable and hydrated as possible. Make her rest, give her the proper dose of acetaminophen or ibuprofen for aches and of course, have her seen by her doctor if you’re worried or she looks very ill.

Distinguishing between the common cold and the flu is not always cut and dry, but knowing some of these main differences may help.

Easy to remember summary: The cold starts gradually and has congestion, runny nose, and “wet” cough as its primary symptoms. The flu starts suddenly with a high fever, body aches, and headache; followed later by sore throat and a dry cough.

Remember to have your children wash those hands diligently, cough and sneeze into the crook of their elbows, and of course go get those flu shots (or mist).

Here’s to staying healthy during cold and flu season.


3 Responses to Doctor, is it the flu?
  1. Practical Parenting
    October 26, 2011 | 10:21 pm

    the dreaded flu season…ugh. I have a crouper which, as you know, knows no seasons…we have it every few months. Just waiting for the next bout!

    • Melissa
      October 27, 2011 | 11:56 pm

      I sure hope your frequent crouper grows out of it soon! Let’s hope we all manage to keep the flu at bay :)

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