Staying a step ahead of colds and flu this season

Staying a step ahead of colds and flu this season

Corrine Langill, RN, BScN

Manager, Health Promotion and Injury Prevention

Children's Hospital of Eastern Ontario

It's right around the corner.  Late fall through the winter is a time of runny noses, coughs, sneezes, sniffles and loads of soggy tissues.  Having a cold is no fun, but most of the time, symptoms are mild and children can carry on with their usual activities.  Sometimes though, cold viruses can cause more serious lung infections, especially in babies. 

Colds and flu-what's the difference?

Colds and flu are both caused by germs called viruses.  Cold viruses usually cause milder illness, and bring on runny or stuffy noses.  The flu is caused by the influenza virus, and is a more serious illness.  Someone with the flu will feel very tired, and will just want to stay in bed.  The flu also causes fever and body aches that can last more than a week.  The flu can also lead to bigger health problems, like pneumonia and other infections. 

Stopping germs at the door

Cold and flu viruses get into our bodies through our mouths, noses and eyes.  Our hands spread these germs around easily, and bring them right to us, when we eat, or touch our eyes, nose or mouth.  We can also breathe in germs after people sneeze or cough.  Two simple actions can really cut down on the spread of these viruses:

  1. Washing hands (and your child's hands) often with soap and water or hand sanitizer.    
  2. Coughing or sneezing into the bend of the arm. 

Babies under 6 months are at greater risk for breathing problems from virus infections.  So it's really important to protect them. Keep your baby away from large crowds (shopping malls, daycare centres or large family gatherings).  And don't let anyone who is sick come close to your baby.  

While there are no vaccines for colds, vaccines can protect you and your children from the flu.  Click here for more information

Caring for a sick child

While parents and caregivers can do a lot to prevent colds and flu, children still sometimes get sick.  For most children, extra rest and fluids will be all they need to help them fight the infection.  Medications like ibuprofen (Advil®, Motrin®) or acetaminophen (Tylenol®, Tempra®) can help children to feel better if they have a headache, body aches or fever.  Children can have ibuprofen (Advil®, Motrin®) when they are 6 months of age or older. Babies between 1-6 months of age can have ibuprofen, but in a smaller dose. Speak with your doctor or pharmacist before giving ibuprofen to a baby between 1-6 months of age.

A stuffy nose can make feeding difficult for babies, because they are mostly 'nose breathers' until they are 3-6 months of age.  A plastic nasal aspirator can gently pull fluids from the nose to make breathing and feeding easier (the hydraSense® Nasal Aspirator works well).  Use saline nose drops or spray first if the mucous is very thick. 

Most of the time, children can ride out a cold or the flu at home.  Call your health care provider if your child:

  • Is under 3 months old;
  • Has a fever for more than 3 days
  • Gets a new fever several days after the start of a cold;
  • Has ear pain, or fluid draining from the ear;
  • Is not getting better 1 week of symptoms.

Once in a while, things get more serious, and your child may need to see a doctor right away. 

Bring your child to the Emergency Department if your child:

  • Is under 3 months of age and has a fever (rectal temperature of 38°C or higher);
  • Is very irritable or sleepy and doesn't improve with fever medicine;
  • Has trouble breathing;
  • Has signs of dehydration, like: dry mouth, or is not passing urine (peeing) at least every 8 hours;
  • Has a headache or sore neck that does not go away with fever or pain medicine;
  • Has a fever with a rash that looks like tiny, expanding bruises.

Did you know?

  • Somewhere between 1 and 4 children out of 10 get influenza (the flu) every year. 
  • Never give over the counter cough and cold medications to children under 7 years of age.
  • Over the counter cough and cold medications are not very effective, especially in children under 14 years.  And they can have serious side effects.
  • Babies under 6 months of age can't receive a flu vaccine.

Do you have more questions?

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