Home Remedies for Children's Colds and Flu

Winter may mean snow, sleds, and outdoor fun for children -- but it can also mean colds, sore throats, fever, and flu.

When winter ills strike, soothe symptoms with these simple home treatments.

Common Cold Comforts: Tips to Help Your Child Feel Better

There are over 200 cold viruses ready to lay your family low with nasal congestion, sore throat, and cough. Combat cold symptoms with these home remedies.

  • Get rest. Rest helps the body focus its energy on getting well, so keep kids home from school to keep them warm, and well-rested.
  • Drink lots of fluids. Replenish liquids lost from fever, vomiting and diarrhea. Fluids also help loosen mucus.
  • Use a humidifier. A humidifier in your child's room can keep the air moist and break up nasal and chest congestion.
  • Talk to your pediatrician before giving OTC cold and cough medicines. These medicines should not be given to children under 4 years of age, according to the FDA and the drug makers. Also, evidence indicates medicines such as antihistamines, decongestants, and cough medicines don't really help, but they could pose a small risk of serious side effects.

Cold Symptoms: When to Call a Doctor

Most colds pass in seven to 10 days, but give your child's pediatrician a call if your child has:

Flu Symptoms: Tips to Help Your Child Feel Better

The flu can come on suddenly and may include fever. Help kids cope with these quick tips.

  • Keep kids home and well-rested.As with colds, bed-rest is vital to helping the body's immune system fight the flu.
  • Gargle with warm salt water. Salt water can help relieve sore throat pain, while salt water nose drops can help loosen mucus.
  • Stay hydrated. Fluids help the body tackle infection. Make sure your child drinks water, herbal tea, or 100% juice or eats clear soups to get the liquids he or she needs.

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Flu Symptoms: When to Call a Doctor

Call your child's pediatrician if flu symptoms include:

  • A fever over 101° F for longer than 72 hours
  • Chest or abdominal pain
  • Difficulty breathing
  • Vomiting
  • Listlessness or decreased urination
  • Or if symptoms linger for more than 10 days

Sore Throat: Tip to Help Your Child Feel Better

A sore throat can be caused by flu, strep throat, mononucleosis, allergies, tonsillitis, and more, so be sure your child sees the doctor to get the correct diagnosis. To help ease common sore throats:

  • Gargle with salt water. Add 1 teaspoon of salt to 8 ounces of water.
  • Use pain relievers like acetaminophen or ibuprofen. Never give aspirin to children under 18 because it can cause potentially fatal Reye's syndrome.
  • Drink fluids to help keep the throat lubricated. Give your child plenty of water, tea, 100% juices, and clear soups. Lozenges and hard candies can also help keep the throat moist (because of choking hazards, don't give lozenges and candies to children under 3).

Sore Throat: When to Call a Doctor

Give your child's pediatrician a call if, along with a sore throat, your child has:

  • Problems breathing
  • Great difficulty swallowing
  • A stiff neck
  • Signs of dehydration, which can include dry mouth, a lack of tears, decreased energy, and problems peeing
  • A fever over 104° F
  • If sore throat lasts more than two days

Fever: Tips to Help Your Child Feel Better

A fever means your child's body is trying to fight an infection. You can help it do its job with these quick tips.

  • Use pain relievers like ibuprofen or acetaminophen. These can help relieve a fever in children older than 6 months -- but be sure to talk to your doctor about the right dosage. Never give aspirin to a child under 18 years old due to the risk of potentially deadly Reye syndrome.
  • Offer fluids to help keep your child hydrated and reduce heat loss.
  • Dress your child lightly to avoid overheating. For example, in one layer of light clothing and one light blanket.
  • Sponge your child with lukewarm water to help relieve the discomfort of a high fever; stop if your child becomes cold.

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Fever: When to Call a Doctor

Call your doctor if your child has a fever and also:

  • Facial pain
  • A rash
  • A stiff neck
  • If the fever is over 104° F or if a fever of 103° F or less lasts more than 72 hours
  • If your child is less than 6 months or not immunized
  • Vomiting more than once

You know your child best. If you're worried about any symptom -- whether cold, flu, fever, or sore throat -- put your mind at ease, give your doctor a call.

WebMD Feature Reviewed by Dan Brennan, MD on July 06, 2015

Sources

SOURCES:

American Academy of Pediatrics: "Children and Colds," "Caring for a Child With a Viral Infection."

Ed. Prevention, The Doctor's Book of Home Remedies. Rodale, Inc., 2009.

American Academy of Family Physicians: "Colds and the Flu," "Influenza: Key Points," "Colds and the Flu," "Sore Throat."

Chris Tolcher, MD, FAAP, pediatrician; clinical assistant professor of pediatrics, University of Southern California School of Medicine, West Hills California.

Seattle Children's Hospital: "Should Your Child See a Doctor? Sore Throat," "Should Your Child See a Doctor? Fever."

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