The English writer Jane Austen noted, “There is nothing like staying at home for real comfort.” Kids with the flu would agree. Though symptoms can cause discomfort, only a small minority need hospital care. You can provide comfort, relieve symptoms, monitor for complications and enhance recovery -- all at home.
Fever and Aches
Fever is flu's hallmark. Lowering fever with over-the-counter medications can help a child rest better. Kids may also be less fussy and, therefore, more likely to drink needed fluids. You can use either acetaminophen (Tylenol) or ibuprofen (Advil) to bring down a fever and ease any achiness. Just be sure to follow dosage timing recommendations and double-check the amount given to avoid harmful overdosing. Also, never give aspirin to a child with influenza or suspected influenza. Reye syndrome, which can be fatal, has been associated with the use of aspirin to treat viruses.
Runny Nose and Cough
The U.S. Food and Drug Administration no longer approves over-the-counter cold and cough medications for children younger than age 4. Instead, use saline nose drops and washes to relieve stuffy noses. A warm bath or shower will also loosen crusted nasal discharges. Gently wash the child's nose and pat dry. Afterward, apply a light film of antibiotic ointment or petroleum jelly to the nostril area. This decreases redness and irritation around the nose. A cool-mist vaporizer will also ease congestion. The vaporizer should be clean, kept out of children's reach, and used according to the manufacturer's directions. Children older than age 6 may benefit from cough drops.
Nutrition and Hydration
Kids, unlike most adults, may also have vomiting and diarrhea when they are sick with influenza. This should be handled the same way as other episodes of viral diarrhea and vomiting. Your child's doctor may recommend use of rehydration fluids or a change to clear liquids followed by bland foods. Kids who have the flu but do not have diarrhea and vomiting can be offered their usual foods. A diminished appetite is common, so frequent, small, nutritious snacks may be more suitable. Liquids should be encouraged.
Monitoring for Problems
Most kids bounce back quickly from the flu and are back to their happy, busy selves within a week or so. Kids who are not improving, are worsening or have severe symptoms need prompt care from a health-care provider. Children with trouble breathing or suspected dehydration should receive emergency medical care. You should not hesitate to communicate concerns about your sick child with her health care provider. Antiviral medication to combat the flu, antibiotics for bacterial complications, and other treatments may be needed. Also, remember that annual influenza vaccinations are available to prevent future flu infections.
- Centers for Disease Control and Prevention: Antiviral Agents for the Treatment and Chemoprophylaxis of Influenza
- Pediatrics: Recommendations for Prevention and Control of Influenza in Children, 2013-14
- New England Journal of Medicine: The Underrecognized Burden of Influenza in Young Children
- Pediatrics: Commentary – Helping Mothers Prevent Influenza Illness in Their Infants