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School Germs and Your Child’s Health

Children and Viruses: Cold and Flu

Telling the difference between colds and flu isn't always easy, but in general, flu is more severe. While a cold might be annoying, flu will leave your children flattened on the couch. Here are five things to consider.

  1. Fluids. With cold and flu, dehydration is less of an issue than it is with a stomach virus. Liquids are still important, since they help loosen mucus and prevent it from getting sticky. Warm fluids, like soup, might be especially helpful.
    Some parents run for electrolyte solutions whenever their kids have any kind of illness. It's not necessary with cold and flu, Jana says. Just about anything your child wants to drink is fine. Again, the protein and fat in milk make it a good choice -- despite the common misconception that milk causes congestion.
  2. Food. "Parents really need to take food off the worry list when their kids have a cold or flu," says Jana. Yes, your child might not eat much for a few days and lose some weight. But that weight comes back very quickly after they recover. Anything your child wants to eat is acceptable, Jana says
  3. Pain and fever relief. Children's acetaminophen or ibuprofen can help ease discomfort and bring down a fever. However, Jana says that parents should pay more attention to how their children feel than the number on the thermometer.
    "Parents tend to overtreat fever," says Jana. "If your children have a fever but are out playing in the yard happily, you probably don't need to give them medicine."
  4. Cold and flu medicines. Don't use any OTC cough, cold, or flu medicine in a child under 4. Even in older children, it might be best to check with a pediatrician first. These medicines do have risks and there's not much evidence that they will help. And never give aspirin to a child, especially those with flu-like illnesses, unless you discuss this with your pediatrician first.
  5. Moisture. Dry air can aggravate cold and flu symptoms. Keep a humidifier running in your children’s room to help make them more comfortable. If they'll tolerate it, a nasal saline spray could help too.

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