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November 5, 2023

What to Do If Your Child Gets the Flu: A Pediatrician’s Guide with Christine Macomber, MD

by Christine Macomber, MD

As a parent, few things are as concerning as when your child falls ill. In this guide, we will discuss what to do if your child gets the flu, short for influenza, offering advice from a pediatrician’s perspective. We’ll cover everything from recognizing flu symptoms to home care and when to seek professional medical attention.

Understanding Flu and Recognizing Common Symptoms

The first step in dealing with your child’s flu is understanding what it is. The flu, short for influenza, is a contagious respiratory illness caused by influenza viruses. It can affect people of all ages but is particularly concerning for children due to their developing immune systems which can put them at risk for more severe illness and complications. Flu symptoms can be like other respiratory illnesses such as the common cold, but the flu is usually more severe. Common flu symptoms in children include:

  • High fever
  • Cough
  • Sore throat
  • Runny or stuffy nose
  • Body aches
  • Fatigue
  • Vomiting and diarrhea (more common in children)

Home Care for Flu

If your child gets the flu, home care is the primary course of action. Here are some steps to follow:

  • Rest: Encourage your child to rest and sleep as much as needed. The body fights infections more effectively when at rest.
  • Hydration: Ensure your child drinks plenty of fluids. This will help prevent dehydration, which is a common complication of the flu.
  • Fever Management: Use over-the-counter fever-reducing medications as directed by your pediatrician. These can help ease discomfort and reduce fever.
  • Isolation: Keep your child isolated to prevent the spread of the virus to other family members. Teach them good respiratory hygiene, like covering their mouth and nose when coughing or sneezing.  Masks are another great way to prevent the spread of the virus.
  • Nutrition: Offer a balanced diet to help boost your child’s immune system. Foods rich in vitamins and nutrients can support recovery.

When to Seek Professional Medical Attention

While most cases of the flu can be managed at home, there are situations when you should seek professional medical attention:

  • Underlying Conditions: Children with underlying health conditions like asthma or heart problems or chronic medical conditions are at higher risk for complications. If your child has one of these conditions, it is helpful to make your pediatrician aware in case there is additional advice specific to your child.
  • Severe Symptoms: If your child is having difficulty breathing, experiencing chest pain, or is unusually lethargic, consult a healthcare provider immediately.
  • Dehydration: Watch for signs of dehydration, such as dry mouth, few tears when crying, or decreased urine output. Dehydration can be dangerous, especially for children, so contact your pediatrician if you suspect it.
  • High Fever: If your child’s fever is persistently high or does not respond to fever-reducing medication, consult your pediatrician.
  • Worsening Condition: If your child’s condition is not improving after a few days, or if they seem to be getting worse, it’s essential to consult a healthcare professional.

Preventing the Spread of the Flu

Preventing the spread of the flu is essential to protect your child and others. Here are some preventive measures:

  • Flu Vaccination: Ensure your child receives the flu vaccine each year. It is one of the most effective ways to prevent the flu.
  • Hand Hygiene: Teach your child proper handwashing techniques, which can significantly reduce the risk of infection.
  • Respiratory Etiquette: Teach your child to cover their mouth and nose with a tissue or their elbow when coughing or sneezing.  Do not forget, masks are another great way to prevent the spread of the virus.
  • Avoid Close Contact: Encourage your child to maintain a safe distance from others who are sick and limit contact with infected individuals.
  • Disinfection: Regularly clean and disinfect commonly touched surfaces, especially during flu season.

Dealing with the flu can be a challenging experience for both you and your child, but with the right knowledge and care, you can help them recover. Remember that the flu can be dangerous, particularly for children, so it’s important to act promptly and consult your pediatrician when necessary. By following the steps outlined in this guide, you can help your child through the flu and reduce the risk of complications while ensuring a speedy recovery.

Disclaimer: This blog post is for informational purposes only and is not a substitute for professional medical advice. Please consult your pediatrician or a healthcare provider for personalized guidance on your child’s health.

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