What's Your Cold and Flu IQ?
Pediatric health experts answer parents' top 10 questions about sneezy, sniffly cold-weather maladies.
7. When should I treat my child's fever? Can I give over-the-counter cold medicines?
You should never give aspirin to treat the flu (or a cold) in children. Aspirin can lead to Reye's syndrome (brain damage and liver failure), a condition linked to taking aspirin during an influenza infection and other viruses, such as chickenpox.
Also, never give children under 4 any cold or cough medicines, the FDA warns, because they may produce serious side effects. For older children, you can give these medicines occasionally, but many children's health experts feel there isn't enough proof they are effective for symptom relief.
8. What about home remedies? Do any work?
Yes, says Rotbart. "Honey is as good for a cough as any cough medicine. For kids older than 1 year, a teaspoon or tablespoon of honey is a safe and quite effective home remedy." Honey is not safe for children younger than a year because of the risk of botulism.
Homemade saline nose sprays can help with congestion and unblock stuffy noses. Breathing in steam -- by standing in a steamed-up bathroom, for example -- also helps relieve nasal congestion, Rotbart says.
Rotbart is a big fan of chicken soup as a home remedy for cold and flu symptoms. Not only is the soup hydrating, but the steam may help with congestion.
"It's never been shown in a controlled trial with real people," he says. "I can't say with honesty that there's science in humans to back it up. But as my grandmother would say, 'What could it hurt?'"
9. How long until my child feels better?
"The typical cold will last about three to five days," says Smith, and your child will probably feel lousy for the first couple, then start to feel better. "The influenza virus can really knock your kid out for a bit longer -- usually at least five to seven days."
10. How can we avoid colds and the flu altogether?
Make sure your kids frequently wash their hands, says Smith. And if your child is the one who's sick, reminders to practice "good cough etiquette" -- coughing or sneezing into an elbow or upper arm -- can help reduce the spread of infection.
Getting adequate sleep and exercising help bolster immunity against cold viruses, says Rotbart.
Finally, "Everybody really should get a flu vaccine," says Smith. "It's what we call a universal recommendation. The CDC recommends everyone over 6 months be vaccinated. That's really the best way to prevent the flu