How to tell the difference, and when to call the doctor.

As the weather turns cold and winter creeps up, the conversations about cold and flu season are even more common than the ones about the snow. We receive various questions from parents regarding their children’s health during the winter. Here is what you need to know for a healthy winter for your family.

The difference between a cold and the flu

The common cold and the flu (influenza virus) are both respiratory illnesses that are usually self-diagnosable. One can often tell them apart in a child by the symptoms and their severity.

Both a cold and the flu can cause congestion in the nose and head, a cough and a fever, but one can conclude that a child has the flu if symptoms are severe, such as a high fever (100.4° and above). A common sign of the flu is the achiness throughout a child’s entire body and chills, both of which are not generally associated with a cold.

The onset and timeline of your child’s illness is also a good indicator of whether they have a cold or the flu. A cold usually develops gradually while flu symptoms often appear very suddenly. Children’s colds usually last for about three to 10 days while the flu lasts from seven to 14 days, and may linger for three weeks.

It’s not always easy for children to communicate their symptoms and how they are feeling, so during the cold and flu season, keep an eye on your child’s day to day behavior. If a younger child has a cold they may rub their nose and eyes frequently and they may eat less while older children complain about not being able to breathe and their nose being stuffy. When a child seems fussy, tired, and uncomfortable due to pain throughout their body and is not eating normally, they may have the flu.

Treatment for your child’s illness

Like most viral infections, colds have to run their course and children should rest and increase fluid consumption. Unless there is a fever or severe symptoms, a child can continue to go to school (depending upon your school’s policy). It is not routinely recommended for children to take cough and cold medications, unless you are directed to do so by your child’s pediatrician.

If you believe your child has the flu, they should not go to school. While plenty of rest and fluids can improve a child’s symptoms, if detected within the first 48 hours of the virus there are medicines that may help shorten the duration.

Knowing when to call your child’s doctor

You should always call the doctor if your child seems to have more than a cold, their symptoms get worse instead of better, or if your child has any of these symptoms:

Fever of 103°F or higher at any point in time, or a fever above 100°F that lasts for more than a day Heavy coughing with production of mucus Shortness of breath Unusual lethargy/tiredness Inability to keep food or liquids down or poor fluid intake Increasing headache or facial or throat pain Severely painful sore throat that interferes with swallowing Chest or stomach pain Swollen glands (lymph nodes) in the neck Earache

Prevention and the flu vaccine

Common colds and the flu can be prevented by washing hands and using a tissue, elbow, shoulder or shirt to cover your nose and mouth when you sneeze. Don’t sneeze into your hand – this helps spread disease since you have to touch a faucet or wipes to clean your hands. Review proper techniques with your children to ensure they’re not spreading – and are avoiding – as many germs as possible.

To prevent the flu, The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention recommends a yearly flu vaccine for all children six months and older, to be administered as soon as the vaccine is available each year. Many people have the misconception that the flu shot can cause the flu but that is not the case. The shot enables you to build up antibodies to the flu.

In addition to getting children vaccinated, we suggest that people who live with or care for children also get vaccinated.

When children are sick with the flu or even a common cold, it can be hard on them as well as on their family. Getting your children and household members vaccinated and being aware of cold and flu symptoms and treatments is very important.

Let winter be a time for snowmen and outdoor activities for your family, by taking the right precautions and the right steps in treating illness.