|Influenza - Seasonal|
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Diagnosis: How to Know Your Child Has Influenza
If influenza is widespread in your community and your child has flu symptoms with fever, then he or she probably has flu. You don't need to get any special tests. You should call your doctor if your child is HIGH-RISK for complications of the flu (see the following list). These are the children who may need prescription anti-viral drugs. For LOW-RISK children, you don't need to call or see your child's doctor, unless your child develops a possible complication of the flu. (see the "When to Call Your Doctor" section).
HIGH-RISK Children for Complications From Influenza
Children are considered HIGH-RISK for complications if they have any of the following conditions:
Prescription Antiviral Drugs for Influenza
Return to School
|When to Call Your Doctor|
|Call 911 Now (your child may need an ambulance) If|
|Call Your Doctor Now (night or day) If|
|Call Your Doctor Within 24 Hours (between 9 am and 4 pm) If|
|Call Your Doctor During Weekday Office Hours If|
|Parent Care at Home If|
|HOME CARE ADVICE FOR SEASONAL INFLUENZA|
- Since influenza is widespread in your community and your child has flu symptoms (cough, sore throat, runny nose, and fever), your child probably has the flu.
- Special tests are not needed.
- You don't need to call or see your child's doctor unless your child develops a possible complication of the flu (such as an earache or difficulty breathing).
- For healthy people, the symptoms of seasonal influenza are similar to those of the common cold.
- With flu, however, the onset is more abrupt and the symptoms are more severe. Feeling very sick for the first 3 days is common.
- The treatment of influenza depends on your child's main symptoms and is usually no different from that used for other viral respiratory infections.
- Bed rest is unnecessary.
- Runny Nose with Profuse Discharge: Blow or Suction the Nose
- Nasal mucus is washing viruses and bacteria out of nose and sinuses. Blowing the nose is all that's needed. For younger children, gently suction the nose with a suction bulb.
- Apply petroleum jelly to the nasal openings to protect them from irritation.
- Cleanse the skin first.
- Nasal Washes To Open a Blocked Nose:
- Use saline nose drops or spray to loosen up the dried mucus. If not available, can use warm tap water.
- STEP 1: Instill 3 drops per nostril. (Age under 1 year, use 1 drop and do one side at a time)
- STEP 2: Blow (or suction) each nostril separately, while closing off the other nostril. Then do other side.
- STEP 3: Repeat nose drops and blowing (or suctioning) until the discharge is clear.
- Frequency: Do nasal washes whenever your child can't breathe through the nose.
- Saline nasal sprays can be purchased without a prescription.
- Saline nose drops can also be made: add 1/2 teaspoon (2 ml) of table salt to 1 cup (8 ounces or 240 ml) of warm water.
- Reason for nose drops: suction or nose blowing alone can't remove dried or sticky mucus.
- Another option: use a warm shower to loosen mucus. Breathe in the moist air, then blow each nostril.
- For young children, can also use a wet cotton swab to remove sticky mucus.
- Importance for a young infant: can't nurse or drink from a bottle unless the nose is open.
- Medicines for Colds:
- Cold medicines are not recommended at any age. (Reason: they are not helpful. They can't remove dried mucus from the nose. Nasal washes can.)
- Antihistamines are not helpful, unless your child also has nasal allergies.
- Decongestants: OTC oral decongestants (Pseudoephedrine or Phenylephrine) are not recommended. Although they may reduce nasal congestion in some children, they also can have side effects.
- Age Limit: Before 4 years, never use any cough or cold medicines. (Reason: unsafe and not approved by FDA) (Avoid multi-ingredient products at any age.)
- No Antibiotics: Antibiotics are not helpful, unless your child develops an ear or sinus infection.
- Homemade Cough Medicine:
- Goal: Reduce the irritation or tickle in the throat that triggers a dry cough
- AGE 3 months to 1 year of age: Give warm clear fluids (e.g., water or apple juice) to treat the cough. Dosage: 1-3 teaspoons (5-15 ml) four times per day when coughing. Avoid honey until 1 year old.
- AGE: 1 year and older: Use Honey 1/2 to 1 tsp (2 to 5 ml) as needed as a homemade cough medicine. It can thin the secretions and loosen the cough. (If not available, can use corn syrup.) Drugstore cough medicines are not as helpful as honey.
- AGE: 6 years and older: Use Cough Drops to coat the irritated throat. (If not available, can use hard candy.)
- Sore Throat Relief: For mild sore throat, use warm chicken broth over 1 year old and hard candy over 6 years old. For throat pain more than mild, Ibuprofen is very effective (see Dosage table).
- Fluids: Encourage adequate fluid to prevent dehydration.
- Fever Medicine:
- For fever above 102° F (39° C) or discomfort, use acetaminophen or ibuprofen (See Dosage table)
- AVOID ASPIRIN because of the strong link with Reye's syndrome.
- FOR ALL FEVERS: Give cold fluids in unlimited amounts. Avoid excessive clothing or blankets (bundling).
- Pain Medicine: For pain relief (e.g., muscle aches or headaches), give acetaminophen every 4 hours OR ibuprofen every 6 hours as needed. (See Dosage Table)
- Prescription Antiviral Drugs for Influenza:
- Antiviral drugs (such as Tamiflu) must be started within 48 hours of the start of flu symptoms to have an impact.
- The AAP recommends they be used for any patient with severe symptoms AND for most HIGH-RISK CHILDREN (see that list).
- The AAP doesn't recommend antiviral drugs for LOW-RISK children with mild flu symptoms.
- Their benefits are limited: they usually reduce the time your child is sick by 1 to 1 1/2 days. They reduce the symptoms, but do not eliminate them.
- Side effects: Vomiting in 10% of children.
- Spread is rapid because the incubation period is only 2 days and the virus is very contagious.
- Your child can return to child care or school after the fever is gone for 24 hours and your child feels well enough to participate in normal activities.
- Expected Course:
- Influenza causes a cough that lasts 2 to 3 weeks.
- Sometimes your child will cough up lots of phlegm (mucus). The mucus can normally be gray, yellow or green.
- Coughing up mucus is very important for protecting the lungs from pneumonia.
- We want to encourage a productive cough, not turn it off.
- The fever lasts 2 to 3 days and the runny nose lasts 7 to 14 days.
- Prevention: How to Protect Yourself From Getting Sick:
- Wash hands often with soap and water.
- Alcohol-based hand cleaners are also effective.
- Avoid touching the eyes, nose or mouth. Germs on the hands can spread this way.
- Try to avoid close contact with sick people.
- Try to avoid unnecessary visits to the ER and urgent care centers because those are the places where you are more likely to be exposed to flu, if you don't have it.
- Prevention: How to Protect Others - Stay Home When Sick:
- Cover the nose and mouth with a tissue when coughing or sneezing.
- Wash hands often with soap and water, especially after coughing or sneezing.
- Limit contact with others to keep from infecting them.
- Stay home from school or work for at least 24 hours after the fever is gone (CDC, August 2009).
- Flu Shot and Prevention:
- Getting a flu shot is the best way to protect you and your child from flu.
- Yearly influenza vaccines are strongly recommended for all children over 6 months of age. (AAP)
- When the vaccine is a good match to the circulating flu virus, it is highly effective at completely preventing the disease.
- Even when the vaccine doesn't match the circulating flu virus, it usually reduces the severity of the symptoms.
- Call Your Doctor If:
- Breathing becomes difficult or rapid
- Retractions (pulling in between the ribs) occur
- Dehydration occurs
- Earache or sinus pain occurs
- Fever lasts over 3 days
- Nasal discharge lasts over 14 days
- Cough lasts over 3 weeks
- Your child becomes worse
And remember, contact your doctor if your child develops any of the "Call Your Doctor" symptoms.
Disclaimer: This information is not intended be a substitute for professional medical advice. It is provided for educational purposes only. You assume full responsibility for how you choose to use this information.
Author and Senior Reviewer: Barton D. Schmitt, M.D.
Last Reviewed: 11/14/2011
Last Revised: 11/14/2011
Content Set: Pediatric HouseCalls Symptom Checker
Copyright 1994-2012 Barton D. Schmitt, M.D.