From your health and wellness experts at Prisma Health
Children, Health

Children’s flu symptoms and when to go to the ER

Prisma Health Children’s Hospital–Midlands
Protecting children from the flu is important to all parents. But knowing what to do when the flu hits your family can be tricky. Caughman Taylor, MD, senior medical director of Prisma Health Children’s Hospital–Midlands and chairman of the USC School of Medicine’s Department of Pediatrics, offered some advice.
Dr. Taylor said the most important thing parents can do to safeguard their children is to get a flu shot, which is recommended for all children six months and older. 
It’s also helpful to know how the flu is different from the common cold. Dr. Taylor said the flu and common cold are viruses and their respiratory symptoms are similar, but there are several differences that set them apart. 
  • Common colds have a more gradual onset, but the flu comes on quickly. 
  • Flu involves a headache and fever, but colds usually do not or are mild. 
  • Typically, the flu will have chills. 
  • Sometimes there will be vomiting and diarrhea with the flu. 
To treat symptoms of the flu. Dr. Taylor recommended doing this:
  • Have your child drink lots of fluids to prevent dehydration.
  • Ensure adequate sleep.
  • Take Tylenol to relieve headaches and muscle aches.
Although it can be scary when a child’s fever gets high, Dr. Taylor said most children with the flu do not need to see a doctor or go to an emergency room. “You would need to see your physician if your child is high risk, such as if they have an underlying medical condition, or if your child is very young. In those circumstances, your doctor may prescribe antiviral drugs that treat the flu.”
You should also go to the emergency room or call your doctor if your child is having any of these symptoms: 
  • Difficulty breathing
  • Blueness around the lips
  • Not acting as alert
  • Signs of dehydration such as infrequent urination, dry mouth or sunken eyes
  • High fever over 104 F
“If the child’s fever goes away for a day or two and suddenly comes back and is really high, then you should seek immediate medical care,” Dr. Taylor said. 
To prevent the flu from spreading, Dr. Taylor said children should not return to school until 24 hours after their fever has gone away. “Most children are infectious a day before and then the highest risk of passing along the flu is for three or four days,” he said.

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