Is It the Flu, or Something Else?

A few years ago, my friend’s 6-month-old caught something at the height of flu season. At first, it seemed mild — just a runny nose and a slight fever. Like most moms would do, my friend treated her baby at home: She breastfed her regularly, used steam to improve breathing, and encouraged her baby to rest. But after a few days, her baby’s fever spiked, and soon my friend was rushing her child to the hospital for dehydration. What at first seemed like just a simple cold turned into a week of hospitalization. The baby recovered just fine, but hearing my friend’s story made me realize just how insidious and scary the flu can be.

Even with the best hygiene and annual vaccinations, there’s no guarantee that your child won’t get the flu. And although it may mimic a milder illness at first, there are some key differences that can clue you in whether your child is suffering from something more serious than a cold. Ask yourself:

  • Did the illness come on suddenly?
  • Does he have a high fever?
  • Is he lethargic or easily exhausted?
  • Is he complaining his head hurts?
  • Has his appetite decreased?
  • Is he feeling achy?
  • Does he have the chills?

If you answered yes to most of these questions, chances are good that your child is battling the flu.

While it can be tempting to minimize your child’s symptoms, don’t. If your child is experiencing flu-like symptoms call your doctor. Your child’s pediatrician will be able to differentiate between a cold and flu and rule out anything more serious like pneumonia or strep throat. If your child does have  the flu, encourage him to drink plenty of fluids and get lots of rest. In some cases, your child’s pediatrician may prescribe an antiviral drug to ease the symptoms of flu.

Most kids recover just fine from the flu — and sometimes it never gets more serious than a cold. But it can cause complications, especially in babies or those with lowered immune systems from another illness or a chronic condition. If you’re in doubt, call your doctor. And if your child’s symptoms get worse, don’t hesitate to act — the flu can progress quickly, especially in young children. Dragging a sick child out of the house to urgent care or even the hospital may seem dramatic, but as my friend’s experience proved, the flu can be a situation where it’s better to be safe than sorry.

More About the Flu:

7 Tricks for Staying Healthy During Flu Season
How to Prevent a Cold
Is it Safe to Get a Flu Shot While You’re Pregnant?

Photo: Getty