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Cold, Flu, & Cough Health Center

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Cold or Flu?

Your survival guide for the sniffly, sneezy, achy, queasy season.

Kids: Colds & Flu continued...

Cough Medicines
Skip a cough suppressant for minor coughs, since coughing helps bring up extra mucus. Instead, try fluids-such as water; other cool fluids, such as a favorite juice; or warm fluids, like warm water with honey and lemon juice-to help keep your child comfortable. If the cough is severe, call your pediatrician, who may advise a prescription cough remedy.

Decongestants such asr pseudoephedrine (Sudafed) and cold medicines with a decongestant help dry up mucus and open nasal passages a little. But some of these products are stimulants, so they are not good to give at night. Decongestants can give children some comfort during the day by opening breathing passages. The problem is, they are drying and can make mucus thicker and harder to get rid of.

Medications that contain an antihistamine, such as Benadryl (diphenhydramine), are for allergies-they don't help with a cold or the flu. They do nothing to cut down on mucus and are very drying. They do tend to cause drowsiness, which is why they're often in nighttime cold medicines.

Nasal Sprays
Saline sprays can make a dry nose feel better. Decongestant nasal sprays are effective at cutting down runny noses in kids (but don't use them for babies-they have not been tested on infants).

Upset Tummy
Pepto-Bismol can relieve upset stomach and diarrhea, symptoms of a stomach virus-not the flu! Remember, there is no such thing as "stomach flu."

If your child has a fever, do not give Pepto-Bismol, particularly if he/she has symptoms of chickenpox or the flu. The active ingredient in Pepto-Bismol is related to aspirin (but is not aspirin). Aspirin has been linked to a serious condition in children with fever called Reye's syndrome. Check with your doctor before giving Pepto-Bismol to any child with a fever.

Flu Vaccines
The CDC recommends that everyone get a flu shot. The following groups are highly recommended to have flu shots:

  • Infants from 6 to 23 months old.
  • Children (or adults) with a chronic illness, making them more susceptible to the flu.
  • Caregivers and others in contact with infants younger than 6 months.
  • Women who are pregnant during the flu season (especially December and January).

When to Call the Doctor

If you-or your child-aren't feeling better after five days, call your doctor, especially if you have any of these severe symptoms:

  • Difficulty breathing or chest pain: These could be signs of more serious problems, including pneumonia, asthma, or even a heart problem.
  • Persistent fever: This can be a sign of another infection that should be treated.
  • Severe headache: This could indicate meningitis, an inflammation of the lining of the brain.
  • Vomiting or inability to keep fluids down: If you are vomiting frequently, you may be at serious risk of dehydration, which means there isn't enough fluid in your body to get blood to your organs.
  • Painful swallowing: Although a sore throat from a cold or flu can cause mild discomfort, severe pain could mean strep throat, which requires treatment by a doctor.
  • Persistent coughing: When a cough doesn't go away after two or three weeks, it could be bronchitis-which may need an antibiotic-or due to postnasal drip. However, it could also be related to asthma or pertussis (whooping cough).
  • Persistent congestion and headaches: When colds and allergies cause congestion and blockage of sinus passages, they can lead to sinus infection. You may need an antibiotic.
Reviewed on January 01, 2006

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