Quick Tips for Treating Kids with a Cold or Flu

Cold and flu season

When temperatures start turning colder and kids are inside and interacting with each other in greater numbers, cold and flu season inevitably follows.

You may know that cold and flu season is around the corner, but that doesn’t make it easier when you see your little one struggling with a cough and a stuffy nose. Children under the age of 5, and particularly under age 2, are at an especially high risk during cold and flu season.

Colds and flus are viral infections, so antibiotics won’t help when it comes to clearing up an infection. However, there are steps you can take to help your child feel better while their immune system battles the virus.

Offer plenty of fluids

Keep your child hydrated to help reduce cold and flu symptoms and make them feel better. Fevers can result in dehydration. Your child may not feel as thirsty as they normally would, and they may be uncomfortable when drinking, so it’s important to encourage them to drink plenty of fluids.

Dehydration can be very serious in babies, especially if they’re under 3 months old. Call your pediatrician if you suspect your baby is dehydrated. Some signs may include:

  • no tears when crying
  • dry lips
  • soft spots that seem sunken-in
  • decreased activity
  • urinating less than three to four times in 24 hours

If your child is breastfed, attempt to breastfeed them more frequently than usual. Your baby may be less interested in breastfeeding if they’re sick. You may have to have several short feeding sessions in order for them to consume enough fluid.

Ask your little one’s doctor if an oral rehydration solution (like Pedialyte) is appropriate. Remember, you shouldn’t give little ones sports drinks.

Older children have more hydration options. These may include:

  • sports drinks
  • popsicles
  • juice
  • broth
  • flat white soda

Clear up stuffed nasal passages

Medicated nasal sprays aren’t recommended for young children. Fortunately, there are several easy ways to clear up a stuffy nose without medication.

Use a cool-mist humidifier in your child’s room. This will help break up mucus. Be sure to carefully clean the humidifier between uses to keep mold from developing in the machine.

Another option is using a saline nasal spray or drops, which makes thin mucus easier to blow out or remove with a bulb syringe. This is especially helpful before feeding and bedtime.

Loosen the cough

If your child is over 1 year old, try giving honey for a cough instead of medication. You can give 2 to 5 milliliters (mL) of honey a few times during the day.

Studies show that honey is safer and likely more effective than cough medicines for children over 1 year old. You shouldn’t give honey to children younger than a year old due to the risk of botulism.

Promote rest

Extra rest can help your child recover faster.

Your child may be very hot due to fever. Dress them comfortably and avoid heavy blankets or excessive layers that could make them feel hotter. A lukewarm bath can also help them cool off and wind down before taking a nap or going to sleep for the night.

Know what to give and when

Adults can easily take cold and cough medications, but the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) recommends against children under age 2 taking over-the-counter (OTC) cold and cough medications.

If your child has a fever or symptoms of a cold, and is under age 2, call their pediatrician to determine first if you need to give any medication, and how much you need to administer.

Remember that a fever is the body’s way of fighting off an infection. When your child has a low-grade fever, this doesn’t always need to be controlled with OTC medications.

Call your child’s pediatrician first to find out if your child needs medication. If it’s recommended that they take medication, remember to check the dosing information when using either children’s or infant acetaminophen (Tylenol), as they may be different.

Check the label on the bottle for the concentration of acetaminophen. Let your child’s pediatrician know what type you’re giving your child, and make sure you understand how many milliliters or half-milliliters you should give them.

If your child is over 6 months old, you may also give ibuprofen to help control fever or pain.

You may find it difficult to measure out medications in the cups that are included with the bottle. If you’re concerned about using the provided measuring cup, talk to your local pharmacist. Many pharmacies can provide measuring syringes that are more precise.

Your child’s pediatrician may recommend giving multiple medications at one time, such as antihistamines, decongestants, and pain relievers. If this is the case, make sure you read the labels of all medications carefully, to avoid accidental overdose. For example, some decongestants include the pain reliever acetaminophen.

Your child could get very sick if they take too much acetaminophen, such as a decongestant with acetaminophen, and a separate medication with acetaminophen. Make sure to write down which medication you gave and the time you gave it so that you don’t give too much.

Remember that you should never give aspirin to a child who is 18 years old or younger. Aspirin can cause a rare disorder known as Reye’s syndrome in children.

See your child’s doctor

Sometimes even the best at-home care isn’t enough to help your little one make a full recovery. Call your doctor right away if your child:

  • has a fever greater than 101°F (38°C) for more than two days, or a fever of 104°F (40°C) or higher for any amount of time
  • has a fever of 100.4°F (38°C) or higher and is under 3 months old
  • has a fever that doesn’t get better after taking acetaminophen or ibuprofen
  • seems unusually drowsy or lethargic
  • won’t eat or drink
  • is wheezing or is short of breath

You should always call your child’s pediatrician if you have any concerns or questions about their health.

Surviving cold and flu season

After your child recovers from a cold or flu, it’s time to go into prevention mode. Wash all surfaces they came into contact with before or during their sickness. Encourage your children and your other family members to wash their hands regularly to keep future germs at bay.

Teach your child not to share food, drinks, or utensils when they eat to avoid spreading germs between them and their friends. Keep your child out of daycare or school when they’re ill, especially when they have a fever.

The good news about cold and flu season is that it does come and go. Showing your child some loving care and taking steps to put them on the mend can help you make it through cold and flu season.

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