The flu, also known as influenza, is a contagious viral infection that affects the respiratory system. While it can go away on its own, there are some cases where child flu patients need medical attention. In this article we list down the symptoms of the flu and when to take your child to the hospital.
What is the flu?
The flu is a viral infection that targets the nose, throat, lungs and air passages. This illness is very common and the symptoms can be severe. While most children recover from the flu on their own, some may develop more serious complications like pneumonia. Thus, it is important to know when to take your child to the hospital for the flu.
How common is the flu in children?
The flu is highly contagious, meaning that it can be easily transmitted from one person to another. This makes it very common for the flu to be passed around within households. Children tend to catch it more often than adults because their immune systems are still developing.
The flu is mostly active during colder times of the year because the virus thrives in lower temperatures. Most children are capable of fighting off the virus and recovering within a week.
Signs & Symptoms
What are the symptoms of the flu in children?
Though the flu mainly affects the respiratory system, it can cause symptoms to appear in other parts of the body as well. Knowing the symptoms is the first step in discerning when to take your child to the hospital.
The common symptoms of the flu in children are:
- Fever that is as high as 39.4 to 40.5 degrees Centigrade
- Mild to severe body aches
- Sore throat
- Coughing that gets worse
- Extreme fatigue or tiredness
- Runny or stuffy nose
Children can also exhibit less common symptoms, including:
- Ear pain
It is important to note that the flu and the common cold are different conditions. A cold is mild and will go away after a few days. In comparison, the flu causes more severe symptoms and can lead to further complications. Symptoms of the flu may also resemble other health problems.
When should you take your child to the hospital for the flu?
Though most cases of the flu in children can go away on their own, some symptoms or conditions may require immediate medical attention.
You should take your child to the hospital if your child:
- is less than 12 months old
- was prematurely born and is less than 2 years old
- Has been hospitalized in the past three months
- Has a long-lasting chronic condition such as asthma or lung disease
- Generally has a weakened immune system
- Has symptoms that don’t seem to be getting any better
- Has symptoms that disappeared, then returned and became more severe
- Developed new symptoms
- is having trouble breathing
- Has bluish discoloration of the skin
- is dehydrated
- is experiencing lethargy
Causes & Risk Factors
What causes the flu in children?
The flu is caused by certain viruses being transmitted through small droplets that travel in the air when an infected person coughs, sneezes, or talks. These droplets can then enter another person’s body through the nose or mouth.
Flu viruses are divided into three types:
Influenza A and B. These two types are the usual cause of widespread infections during winter in some parts of the world, as well as the most common causes of flu-related hospitalizations. It is important to note, however, that the majority of flu cases do not require hospitalization. Doctors and health officials are very keen to stop the spread of influenza A and B. This type of virus can mutate so people are exposed to new strains every year.
Influenza C. This virus usually causes a mild infection of the respiratory system with little to no symptoms. Influenza C is not as much of a public health emergency as compared to the two types above since it doesn’t cause human flu epidemics.
What increases your child’s risk for the flu?
There are many risk factors that increase your child’s chances of contracting the flu. These should be taken into consideration when you take your child to the hospital for the flu.
The risk factors include:
- Exposure to people who have the flu
- Not receiving flu vaccines or seasonal flu shot
- Practicing improper hygiene
- Weakened immune system
- Your child is under a year old
- Radiation or chemotherapy
- Chronic illness
Diagnosis & Treatment
The information provided is not a substitute for any medical advice. ALWAYS consult with your doctor for more information.
How is influenza in children diagnosed?
Your doctor or pediatrician can usually easily spot if your child has the flu through an examination and description of symptoms. When you take your child to the hospital for flu, the doctor may get a mucus sample to run some tests and verify the diagnosis. This is because the flu shares symptoms with other illnesses and conditions.
How is influenza in children treated?
Treatment for the flu largely depends on the child’s age, general health, symptoms, and the severity of the infection. Treatment for the flu aims to provide relief and prevent the worsening of symptoms.
Here are some possible treatments for the flu:
Acetaminophen or Paracetamol. This helps with pain relief and fever management.
Cough medicine. This helps suppress coughing fits. The Food and Drug Administration (FDA) does not recommend giving cough medicine to children who are 4 years old or younger.
Antiviral medicine. Doctors usually prescribe antiviral medicine to very ill patients. It can shorten the illness by 1 to 2 days if taken within the first 48 hours after the beginning of the flu.
Seasonal flu shots and flu vaccines. Prevention is still the best treatment for the flu. Influenza viruses adapt and evolve very quickly. Seasonal flu shots protect against the influenza viruses that are projected to be in circulation in the coming season.
Always consult your doctor before trying out new medications. Do not take two medicines with the same active ingredient, like a pain reliever or a decongestant, as it may lead to an accidental overdose.
What are some lifestyle changes or home remedies that can help you manage influenza in children?
Since most children can recover from the flu at home, consider some of these tips to prevent and manage the flu at home.
To prevent spreading or contracting the flu:
Promote good hygiene. Encourage your children to frequently wash their hands with soap and water, especially after touching a possibly infected surface, and to cover their mouths and noses with tissue when they sneeze or cough.
Avoid crowds. The flu is very contagious, so it’s best to keep your children away from those who are infected with an influenza virus. Likewise, encourage your children to stay away from other people while they are ill. Children should stay home from school and other places until they have been fever-free for at least 24 hours without the use of fever medicine. Consult your doctor before letting your child go back to school.
Get flu vaccines. Seasonal flu shots and vaccines are the best and most effective way to avoid becoming ill and spreading the flu.
In case your child comes down with the flu, encourage your child to:
Drink lots of fluids. This prevents dehydration and replaces liquids lost in the production of mucus.
Get plenty of rest and sleep. Since a common symptom of the flu is extreme tiredness, your child should take it easy.
Wear plenty of layers that are easy to put on and remove. Children who are sick with the flu may feel hot one moment and then cold the next.
Learn more about Respiratory Health, here.
Hello Health Group does not provide medical advice, diagnosis or treatment.