How to Spot Flu Symptoms in Children

“Most kids are going to be sick anywhere from three to five days,” Dr. Lockwood said. Some symptoms, however, can linger for an average of seven to 10 days, she said. A cough is typically the last thing to clear up.

In most cases, the best prescription for the flu is to rest and recover at home with plenty of fluids, said Dr. Priya Soni, a pediatric infectious disease specialist at Cedars-Sinai Guerin Children’s in Los Angeles. Research has shown that keeping your house at a humidity level of 40 to 60 percent can also ease congestion and reduce virus transmission to others. And using a nasal aspirator to help younger children clear out excess mucus may allow them to sleep better at night, she said.

Doctors generally don’t recommend over-the-counter medicines to help with cough and cold symptoms in children younger than 6, except for fever reducers like acetaminophen — often sold under the brand name Tylenol — and ibuprofen — found in Children’s Motrin. But a few small studies of children between 1 and 5 have found that honey at bedtime may be just as effective in reducing nighttime coughs as over-the-counter cough syrups.

If your child is running a fever higher than 104, or falls in a high risk group like those younger than 2, doctors may sometimes prescribe antiviral medication like Tamiflu to help reduce the severity and duration of the flu. However, high influenza rates are sparking concern among health officials that Tamiflu may become hard to find in some places.

There are three other alternative antiviral medicines that can be used to treat the flu — Relenza, Rapivab and Xofluza. All of these, including Tamiflu, work best when taken early in the course of illness, though their side effects can sometimes exacerbate symptoms like nausea and vomiting.

Children with chronic medical conditions like asthma, diabetes, cystic fibrosis, cerebral palsy, heart conditions or seizures are also at a higher risk for influenza-related complications. And because the flu may exacerbate their medical condition, these children may receive antiviral treatment at any point in their illness, regardless of how long they’ve had symptoms, Dr. Antoon said.

If your pediatrician’s office is closed and your child shows any signs of fast or troubled breathing, blue lips or a heaving chest, you may want to head straight to an urgent care or emergency room. Other emergency signs include refusing to eat or drink, having difficulty staying alert, experiencing muscle pain so strong that it becomes hard to walk and a fever or cough that returns after your child has seemingly been on the mend.

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