It’s cold and flu season. If you haven’t been affected yet, your time is coming. Experts estimate that Americans suffer more than one billion colds annually, and that number rises when you add in the flu. If have have noticed flu symptoms in kids in your house, we have some tips and advice for you.
Kids are germ factories and colds spread quickly in daycare and schools. You may even trade the same cold back and forth in the family for weeks before it is licked. While getting a cold or the flu this winter is likely inevitable, there are things you can do to prevent them. There are some strategies for making your sick time more bearable.
What Does a Cold or Flu Look Like?
Cold viruses and the seasonal flu have some symptoms that overlap, so it can be hard to know the difference. Generally, with the flu, you will feel much worse. But, you can only know it’s the flu for sure by visiting your doctor for a rapid flu test to confirm the presence of the influenza virus.
Cold symptoms include:
- Runny nose or stuffy nose
- Sore throat
- Mild tiredness
If you’re trying to decide if it’s the flu vs cold, here are some tips. Colds tend to come on gradually over a few days, and you’ll usually feel better in seven to ten days.
Many times colds start in the head, then the congestion drains into the chest. When the nose and sinuses begin to feel better, the cough can begin. Some particularly nasty cold viruses can keep you feeling yucky for up to two weeks.
Flu symptoms include:
- Strong muscle or body aches
- Nausea or vomiting
- Extreme fatigue
- Dry hacking cough
- Shaking chills
- Moderate to high fever (though not everyone will get a fever with the flu)
- Stuffy and runny nose
- Sore throat
The flu usually comes on suddenly and harshly, where you may be feeling okay in the morning and terrible by the end of the day. Unlike colds, flu can develop into more dangerous illnesses and should be monitored more carefully. Flu symptoms in kids can look like extreme fussiness and lethargy, especially if they can’t articulate all of their aches and pains.
Though you can generally fight off a cold or flu with over-the-counter decongestants and pain relievers, you should see your doctor if you suspect the flu in a child under age two. If your cough produces thick, green mucus, you develop chest pain, have trouble breathing, or have a high, persistent fever you should also see a doctor.
Cold and Flu Prevention
Here are some things you can do to try to keep from getting a cold or the flu in the first place:
Exercise: Brisk exercise of 45 minutes per day, about five days a week has been shown to boost your immune system and help prevent you from getting sick.
Wash your hands. You’ve heard this one so much you may even tune it out. But handwashing is the best prevention for cold and flu that you can do. You pick up germs on your hands and then touch your face to introduce them into your nose or mouth.
To properly wash your hands, use warm water and plenty of soap. It doesn’t need to be antibacterial soap or anything special. The act of rubbing the hands together for at least 20 seconds is what removes the germs.
Clean under the nails and between your fingers. If you’re in a public restaurant use a paper towel to turn off the faucet. Dispose of the towel then use another one to dry your hands. If possible, do not use your hands to open the bathroom door. Use the paper towel, or an elbow or foot, to avoid transferring germs from the doorknob or handle back to your hands.
Eat right. Eating healthy foods, especially vegetables with lots of antioxidants, will boost your immune system and help your body perform efficiently. This will, in turn, make it harder for you to catch a cold.
Sleep Well. Your body needs rest to heal and fight off germs. Proper amounts of sleep — around 7 or 8 hours per night — are critical for your body to de-stress and recharge to keep you strong and healthy. If you’re stressed, your immune system is less able to fight off germs, and you’re more likely to get sick.
Teach Your Kids How to Blow Their Noses
This might sound strange, but a lot of people, kids included, snuff the mucus from a cold or flu back up into their heads rather than blowing it out. This extra mucus can lead to blocked sinuses and additional pressure, or swallowing lots of mucus and irritating the stomach. Additionally, some people blow their noses so hard that they give themselves an earache.
The proper way to blow your nose to clear your sinuses is to press a finger over one nostril while gently blowing to clear the other. Repeat with the other nostril. And of course, wash your hands after blowing your nose.
Drink Hot Liquids
If anyone in your family is dealing with a cold or flu, warm liquids are your friend. Herbal teas, cocoa, or even warmed milk or diluted juice help relieve nasal congestion, soothe inflamed membranes in your nose and throat, and prevent dehydration.
If you are coughing or experiencing a lot of chest congestion, or if you are feeling dizzy from the flu, taking a steaming hot shower or sitting in the bathroom while hot water runs will help relieve your symptoms and breathe easier.
If you have a young child, hold them on your lap while you also enjoy the steam-room benefits for your skin. Let them write on the condensation-covered mirror when they’re done for a fun ending.
Sleep With Your Head Elevated
You may know this trick from your grandmother: putting an extra pillow under your head or sleeping propped up will help relieve your sinus pressure and allow your nasal passages to drain. If you find this position too awkward to sleep, you can also elevate one end of the mattress. Place pillows or bricks between the mattress and box spring or even under the legs of the bed for elevation.
Seek Help from a Medical Professional
Of course, if you or your children do get sick and at-home remedies don’t seem to be working, call your doctor. It is better to be safe than sorry, especially with little ones. Your doctor can guide you in the next steps to take.
Parents Need Care, Too, to Survive Cold and Flu Season
If it feels like all you’ve been doing is mopping foreheads, making chicken soup, or cleaning up piles of dirty tissues, take heart. Cold and flu season doesn’t last forever. Soon it will be spring and with the warmer, more humid temperatures, these nasty viruses pack it in for the year, waiting for colder, drier climes.