Cold: A common cold is an illness that is caused by a virus. The rhinovirus is the leading cause of colds but there are many others that are also to blame. According to the CDC, there are 22 million days of school missed every year for children with colds. The cold is passed from one person to another through physical contact or touching something that is contaminated with their germs (door handles, pens, phones, etc) and then touching your nose or mouth. (Obviously, this is something kids do a lot). They can also catch a cold when someone who has a cold sneezes or coughs near them.
Flu: The flu is a respiratory illness that is caused by influenza A or B viruses. The virus infects the nose, throat and sometimes the lungs. It is very contagious and is most common during the winter and into the beginning of spring. The flu can cause severe sickness and even lead to death in some cases. It is recommended to prevent the flu by getting a flu vaccine once a year. The CDC recommends that all people 6 months and older should get one. The flu spreads in similar ways to a cold – by very small droplets that are produced by someone with the virus coughing, sneezing or even talking. It can also spread through touching an object that has been contaminated with the flu virus and then touching your nose or mouth.
You know your child isn’t feeling well, but do they have a common cold or is it the flu? It can be tough to tell the difference because there are similar symptoms that appear in each of them. It can be especially difficult when dealing with younger children that aren’t able to tell you exactly how they feel. Both colds and the flu are caused by viruses and are respiratory infections. Look for these symptoms to figure out which you are dealing with:
- Runny or stuffy nose
- Sore throat
- Body aches
- Mild tiredness
A cold will usually come gradually over a couple of days and are more mild than the flu. Symptoms can linger for about two weeks, but your child will usually be better in 7-10 days.
- Runny or stuffy nose
- Sore throat
- Cough (dry or hacking)
- Severe muscle or body aches
- Moderate to high fever, although not everyone with the flu will run a fever
- Shaking chills
- Severe fatigue that may last up to two weeks
- Nausea and vomiting
The flu comes on fast and is more intense than a cold. A bout of the flu normally lasts 1-2 weeks with the most severe symptoms going away in 2-3 days. Some symptoms will linger for 3-7 days.
We know you don’t want to be visiting the doctor all the time. This is one reason it is so important to be sure your kids are washing their hands regularly. Especially during cold and flu season. But when your kids do get sick, in a lot of cases, your child can get the treatment they need in the comfort of your home. So, here are some suggestions to try at home to help your kids feel better when they are suffering with a cold or flu.
- Sit upright so they can breathe easier
- Get lots of rest
- Remove the mucus from their nose with a bulb syringe
- Drink lots of liquids
- Use some saltwater nose drops to loosen up mucus
- You can try using children’s acetaminophen or ibuprofen help reduce body aches and a fever
- Put a humidifier in their bedroom to help with nasal congestion
- Have them gargle with warm salt water to help a sore throat
A bad cold or flu can lead to other illnesses that require antibiotics. These include bronchitis, sinusitis and other bacterial infections. Strep throat and pneumonia are both conditions that can be mistaken for a cold or flu as well. You should seek medical attention for your child if they have:
- A bad headache
- Difficulty breathing
- It is hard to wake them up
- A persistent fever (or any fever if the child is three months old or younger)
- They refuse to eat and drink
- Chest pain