Common Cold and Flu Symptoms in Children

What Should Parents Know
  • The common cold, also known as an upper respiratory infection, is caused by viruses
  • Antibiotics will not help the common cold
  • Cold symptoms in children usually last 5 -7 days

Common Cold Symptoms in Children
  • Common cold symptoms can include the following:
  1. Runny nose (mucus can change color and thickness, even with viruses)
  2. Cough
  3. Fever is possible
  4. Sneezing
  5. Sore Throat
  6. Decreased appetite is not unusual
  • Colds travel through droplets in the air, when people cough or sneeze, and through hand contact, when people touch their eyes, nose, or mouth and then touch other things. 
  • One way to lessen the chances of sharing a cold and prevent the appearance of cold symptoms in children is to cover your mouth when you cough or sneeze. 
  • Dispose of tissues in a trash can immediately. Wash your hands routinely throughout the day, and, most importantly, keep your fingers out of your nose, mouth, and eyes.
  • Common cold symptoms that have lasted a week and are worsening, or 10 days and simply not showing signs of getting better, could signal a sinus infection. It is at this point that the child needs further medical treatment or evaluation is necessary.
  • If at any point, a child shows signs of respiratory distress (i.e. nostrils that get bigger and smaller with breaths, blue lips or labored breathing), they should be taken to the nearest emergency immediately.

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Recognize flu symptoms in children and know when to call the doctor or when to take your child to the hospital for flu

When should parents take their child to the hospital for flu?
Children of all ages should be taken to the hospital for flu if they experience any of the following emergency warning signs:
  1. Have shortness of breath or difficulty breathing
  2. Become unresponsive
  3. Suffer from excessive vomiting
  4. Appear dehydrated with decreased urination, or have dry lips or sunken eyes

If there is a newborn, look for these additional warning signs and seek medical help if they:
  1. Are not eating
  2. Have a fever, trouble breathing, or a color change
  3. Cry without tears or have significantly fewer wet diapers
  • It’s important to know that for children older than 2 months, a fever by itself is not an indication to take a child to the hospital. If a child has a fever and responds to acetaminophen or ibuprofen, that’s an indication that the child does not need to go to the hospital.
  • Parents can help reduce exposure to flu and other illnesses by limiting the number of family members who accompany a sick child to the hospital. Healthy children and relatives should remain at home.

If a child has the flu, when should I call the doctor?
  • The flu can usually be treated at home with rest and liquids, but complications can be serious for certain children. If you are concerned about your child’s flu symptoms, but they are not emergency warning signs, contact your pediatrician first as they know your child’s medical history and specific needs. If your child is lethargic, has a fever for more than three days, or is having trouble taking liquids, contact your doctor.

How long does the flu last in children?
  • If a child has the flu, they are contagious as early as one day before symptoms develop – and up to five to seven days after.
  • Parents can help avoid sickness and a trip to the hospital by ensuring everyone in their family older than 6 months receives a flu shot. See more ways to prevent and treat the flu to keep your entire family healthy during flu season.

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