What To Do When Your Child Has the Flu

Flu can be serious so prepare yourself with the facts in case your child comes down with this common illness. Experts from Henry Ford Health share insights and treatments.

Your child is coughing, sneezing, has a fever and just isn’t feeling well. It’s not COVID and it seems worse than a cold. Chances are, your child has influenza, aka, “the flu.”

While some people use the term “flu” for stomach bugs, influenza is a respiratory virus with body aches and many other symptoms. Two main types cause the most outbreaks and hospitalizations: Type A and Type B.

“When children are sick, especially with the flu, they are at increased risk for other complications like worsened asthma, ear infections and pneumonia,” says Lonetta Postell, M.D., a pediatrician with Henry Ford Health.

Monitor symptoms when your child has the flu

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, symptoms of the flu include:

  • Fever or feeling feverish/chills (note: not all people with the flu will have a fever)
  • cough
  • sore throat
  • runny or stuffy nose
  • muscle or body aches
  • headaches
  • fatigue (tiredness)
  • some people may have vomiting and diarrhea, though this is more common in children than adults

Help alleviate your child’s symptoms

Most of the time, you can treat your child’s flu at home. This is the time to let kids rest, keep them hydrated with plenty of fluids and give them over-the-counter fever reducers as needed. Kids may have chills and aches, so keep them warm and comfortable and make sure they get plenty of sleep. 

Instead of flu medicines like Tamiflu, which kids may not really need, Dr. Postell suggests that parents use time-tested remedies like increased fluids. Water, juice, popsicles and some sports drinks will help keep little ones hydrated.

For babies and toddlers who can’t blow their own noses, help them relieve the bothersome stuffiness by using saline and bulb suction. This helps clear out the ick and keep breathing ways clear, helping kids to get more rest. 

Dr. Postell also recommends that kids take over-the-counter medications like children’s Tylenol or Motrin to manage pain or fever. Use only as needed and as directed. Pay attention to the dosage, which is determined by your child’s age and weight. Don’t go beyond the recommended dose thinking it will help. Too much of these types of drugs can be harmful.

“It’s important to remember that ibuprofen (Motrin) should only be given to children over six months old, as it’s hard on developing kidneys,” Dr. Postell says.

The CDC suggests that one person be in charge of the sick child to avoid spreading the illness to the rest of the family. This point person should ideally not have any immune disorders or be pregnant, which can increase the risk of flu complications. Wear a mask around your sick child to protect you from coughs and sneezes, and remember to wash your hands frequently. Don’t let your child with the flu share items with other family members like cups or toys.

Keep an eye on how long symptoms last

Influenza symptoms can last between seven and 10 days. Anything longer than this and the flu, a virus, may have morphed into a bacterial infection. Seek your doctor’s advice if your child doesn’t seem to be improving.

Know when to call the doctor

Because a fever can dehydrate children, it’s important to monitor flu symptoms. A blog on the Henry Ford Health website recommends that you take your child to the doctor or hospital Emergency Room if they exhibit the following:

  • Urinating less than three times per day
  • Dry lips and mouth
  • No tears

These are all signs of dehydration which can lead to serious complications.

The CDC suggests that you also seek immediate medical attention if your child has trouble breathing or their lips look blue or purple. This can mean a lack of adequate oxygen to the body. 

Sanitize the house

You can do yourself and the whole family a favor by disinfecting your home both while your child is ill and after they recover. This will help reduce the spread of illness and keep it from coming back.

In a blog on the Henry Ford Health website, Sana Zuberi, M.D., a family medicine specialist at Henry Ford Health, recommends wiping down all common surfaces regularly, such as doorknobs, remote controls, refrigerator handles and countertops.

Other tips:

  • Wear a mask around the sick person – or if you are sick and need to be around others. “Don’t take it down to sneeze or cough,” says Dr. Zuberi. “That defeats the purpose.”
  • Clean with bleach. “The only thing that really works for those resistant bugs is bleach,” Dr. Zuberi says.
  • Do laundry. “Kids might even wipe their noses or sneeze into a blanket or stuffed animal,” cautions Dr. Zuberi. Wash bedding and stuffed toys in hot water and wipe down other objects with bleach-based wipes or cleaner.

It’s no fun for anyone when your child has the flu, but most of the time you can make it through without major problems. Keep an eye on your child and never hesitate to call your pediatrician if you have questions about any aspect of your child’s illness. 

Learn more at henryford.com, then visit this Metro Parent page for answers to your top kids’ health questions.

Jenny Kales
Jenny Kales
Content editor Jenny Kales has been in the business of writing for more than 20 years. A natural storyteller, she loves helping Metro Parent clients tell their stories in a way that resonates with their audiences.

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