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Children and Flu


Can there be complications of flu in children?

Some complications of flu in children may include a sinus infection, ear infection, or pneumonia. Call your pediatrician if your child's fever lasts more than three to four days or if your child complains of trouble breathing, ear pain, congestion in the nose or head, or persistent cough, or he seems to be getting worse. Young children under age 2 -- even healthy children -- are more likely than older children to be hospitalized from the complications of flu.

For in-depth information about flu complications, see WebMD's Flu Complications.

What's the best way to treat flu symptoms in children?

There are useful home remedies and over-the-counter medications to treat flu symptoms in children. Keep in mind that antibiotics are ineffective against the flu. Antibiotics are useful to treat bacterial infections. However, the flu is a viral infection and antibiotics will not help. Antiviral medicines are sometimes helpful for high-risk patients if they are started in the first two days of getting sick. They generally only shorten the duration of the flu of one to two days. However, the number one line of defense for flu is to get the flu vaccine. Some common home remedies for flu in children include:

  • Plenty of rest
  • Plenty of liquids
  • Using acetaminophen or ibuprofen to lower fever and reduce aches (Both are available in children's formulations.)

Do not give aspirin to children or teenagers. Aspirin may increase risk of Reye's syndrome, a rare disorder that occurs almost exclusively in children and can cause severe liver and brain damage.

The FDA and manufacturers now say that over-the-counter cough and cold medicines should not be given to children under age 4, and the American Academy of Pediatricians warns that they can cause adverse effects in children under age 6. Talk with your doctor before giving your child an over-the-counter cold or flu medicine.

In very young children with congestion, use a nasal bulb to remove mucus. You may also spray three drops of saline nasal spray into each nostril. Some children may be at increased risk for serious complications from flu. Talk to your health care provider early if your child is younger than age 5 or has a chronic health condition such as asthma or other lung disease, heart condition, or diabetes. 

For in-depth information about how to treat flu symptoms in children, see WebMD's Flu Treatment.

Should I take a child with flu symptoms to the hospital?

If your child has one of the following signs, go to the hospital ER or call 911 for emergency care:

  • The child has difficulty breathing and does not improve even after nasal suctioning and cleaning.
  • The skin color appears bluish or gray.
  • The child appears sicker than in any previous episode of illness. The child may not be responding normally. For example, the child does not cry when expected or make good eye contact with the mother, or the child is listless or lethargic.
  • The child is not drinking fluids well or is showing signs of dehydration. Common signs of dehydration include absence of tears with crying, decrease in amount of urine (dry diapers), irritability or decreased energy.
  • A seizure occurs.


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