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Cold, Flu, & Cough Health Center

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Children and the Flu

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Can Kids Take Antiviral Medicine?

If the doctor thinks your child is likely to have a complication from the flu, he may give her antiviral medicines like oseltamivir (Tamiflu) or zanamivir (Relenza).

They can help if she gets them in the first 2 days of getting sick. They may even shorten the flu by 1 or 2 days. In some cases, they can prevent it. They stop the virus from reproducing, so it can’t spread. Still, the best way to prevent the flu is to get the vaccine.

Antibiotic drugs don’t work. They treat bacterial infections, and the flu is a viral infection.

Do Any Home Remedies Work?

Yes. These treatments can help your kid feel better:

  • Plenty of rest
  • Plenty of liquids
  • Using acetaminophen or ibuprofen to lower fever and ease aches -- you can get both in children's versions.

Don’t give aspirin to children or teenagers. It can boost their risk of Reye's syndrome, a rare disorder that can harm their liver or cause brain damage.

The FDA and drug makers say not to give over-the-counter cough and cold medicines to children under age 4. The American Academy of Pediatricians goes higher -- they warn against using them for children younger than 6. Talk to your doctor before you give your child one of these products.

If you have a very young child with congestion, use a nasal bulb to remove mucus. Or spray three drops of saline nasal spray into each nostril.

Some children are more likely to have serious complications with the flu. Talk to your doctor as soon as you know your child is sick if she’s younger than 5 or has an ongoing (chronic) health condition like asthma or other lung disease, heart condition, or diabetes.

When Should I Take My Child to the Hospital?

Go to the emergency room or call 911 if she has one of the following symptoms:

  • She has trouble breathing that doesn’t get better after you suction and clean her nose.
  • Her skin turns bluish or gray skin.
  • She seems sicker than in any previous episode of illness or doesn’t respond like normal -- for example, if she doesn’t cry when expected or make good eye contact with you, or if she’s listless or lethargic.
  • She isn’t drinking fluids well or shows signs of dehydration, like absence of tears, crying less, peeing less (dry diapers), is cranky, or has low energy.
  • She has a seizure.

WebMD Medical Reference

Reviewed by David T. Derrer, MD on November 19, 2013
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