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Influenza - Seasonal

Disponible En Espanol

Care at Home

  • WHAT YOU SHOULD KNOW: * Flu symptoms include cough, sore throat, runny nose, and fever. During influenza season, if your child has these symptoms, he probably has the flu. * Special tests are not needed. Usually, you don't need to call or see your child's doctor. * If your child develops a complication of the flu, then call your child's doctor. Examples are an earache or trouble breathing. These problems are included in the 'When to Call Your Doctor' section. * For healthy people, the symptoms of influenza are like those of a common cold. * With flu, however, the onset is more abrupt. The symptoms are more severe. Feeling very sick for the first 3 days is common. * The treatment of influenza depends on your child's main symptoms. It is no different from treatment used for other viral colds and coughs. * Bed rest is not needed. * Here is some care advice that should help.
  • RUNNY NOSE WITH LOTS OF DISCHARGE: BLOW OR SUCTION THE NOSE * The nasal mucus and discharge is washing germs out of the nose and sinuses. * Blowing the nose is all that's needed. * For younger children, gently suction the nose with a suction bulb. * Put petroleum jelly on the skin under the nose. Wash the skin first with warm water. This will help to protect the nostrils from any redness.
  • NASAL WASHES TO OPEN A BLOCKED NOSE: * Use saline nose drops or spray to loosen up the dried mucus. If you don't have saline, you can use warm tap water. * STEP 1: Put 3 drops in each nostril. (If age under 1 year old, use 1 drop. Also, do 1 side at a time.) * STEP 2: Blow (or suction) each nostril out while closing off the other nostril. Then, do the other side. * STEP 3: Repeat nose drops and blowing (or suctioning) until the discharge is clear. * How often: Do nasal washes when your child can't breathe through the nose. Limit: No more than 4 times per day. * Saline nose drops or spray can be bought in any drugstore. No prescription is needed. * Saline nose drops can also be made at home. Use 1/2 teaspoon (2 ml) of table salt. Stir the salt into 1 cup (8 ounces or 240 ml) of warm water. * Reason for nose drops: Suction or blowing alone can't remove dried or sticky mucus. Also, babies can't nurse or drink from a bottle unless the nose is open. * Other option: use a warm shower to loosen mucus. Breathe in the moist air, then blow each nostril. * For young children, can also use a wet cotton swab to remove sticky mucus.
  • MEDICINES FOR COLDS: * AGE LIMIT. Before 4 years, never use any cough or cold medicines. Reason: Unsafe and not approved by the FDA. Also, do not use products that contain more than one medicine. * COLD MEDICINES. They are not advised. Reason: They can't remove dried mucus from the nose. Nasal washes are the answer. * DECONGESTANTS. Decongestants by mouth (such as Sudafed) are not advised. They may help nasal congestion in older children. Decongestant nasal spray is preferred after age 12. * ALLERGY MEDICINES. They are not helpful, unless your child also has nasal allergies. They can also help an allergic cough. * NO ANTIBIOTICS. Antibiotics are not helpful for colds. Antibiotics may be used if your child gets an ear or sinus infection.
  • HOMEMADE COUGH MEDICINE: * Goal: Decrease the irritation or tickle in the throat that causes a dry cough. * AGE 3 months to 1 year: Give warm clear fluids to treat the cough. Examples are apple juice and lemonade. Amount: Use a dose of 1-3 teaspoons (5-15 ml). Give 4 times per day when coughing. Caution: Do not use honey until 1 year old. * AGE 1 year and older: Use HONEY ½ to 1 teaspoon (2-5 ml) as needed. It works as a homemade cough medicine. It can thin the secretions and loosen the cough. If you don't have any honey, you can use corn syrup. * AGE 6 years and older: Use COUGH DROPS to coat the sore throat. If you don't have any, you can use hard candy.
  • SORE THROAT PAIN RELIEF: * Age over 1 year. Can sip warm fluids such as chicken broth or apple juice. * Age over 6 years. Can also suck on hard candy or lollipops. Butterscotch seems to help. * Age over 8 years. Can also gargle. Use warm water with a little table salt added. A liquid antacid can be added instead of salt. Use Mylanta or the store brand. No prescription is needed. * Medicated throat sprays or lozenges are generally not helpful.
  • FEVER: * For fevers above 102° F (39° C), give acetaminophen (such as Tylenol) or ibuprofen. See Dose Table. Note: lower fevers are important for fighting infections. * AVOID ASPIRIN because of the strong link with Reye syndrome. * For ALL fevers: Keep your child well hydrated. Give lots of cold fluids. * For babies, dress lightly. Don't wrap in too many blankets. Reason: can make the fever higher.
  • PAIN MEDICINE: * For muscle aches or headaches, give acetaminophen (Tylenol) OR ibuprofen. Use as needed. See Dose Table.
  • PRESCRIPTION ANTIVIRAL DRUGS FOR INFLUENZA: * Antiviral drugs (such as Tamiflu) are sometimes used to treat influenza. They must be started within 48 hours of when flu symptoms start. * The AAP recommends they be used for any patient with severe symptoms. they also recommend the drugs for most HIGH-RISK CHILDREN. See that list. * The AAP doesn't recommend antiviral drugs for LOW-RISK children with normal flu symptoms. * Their benefits are limited. They reduce the time your child is sick by 1 to 1 1/2 days. They reduce the symptoms, but do not make them go away. * Side effects: Vomiting in 10% of children.
  • RETURN TO SCHOOL: * Spread is rapid, and the virus is easily passed to others. * The time it takes to get the flu after contact is about 2 days. * Your child can return to school after the fever is gone for 24 hours. * Your child should feel well enough to join in normal activities.
  • WHAT TO EXPECT: * Influenza causes a cough that lasts 2 to 3 weeks. * Sometimes your child will cough up lots of phlegm (mucus). The mucus can be gray, yellow or green. This is normal. * Coughing up mucus is very important. It helps protect the lungs from pneumonia. * We want to help a productive cough, not turn it off. * The fever lasts 2 to 3 days. * The runny nose lasts 7 to 14 days.
  • CALL YOUR DOCTOR IF: * Breathing becomes hard or rapid * Retractions (pulling in between the ribs) occur * Dehydration occurs * Earache or sinus pain occurs * Fever lasts more than 3 days * Nasal discharge lasts more than 14 days * Cough lasts more than 3 weeks * Your child becomes worse
  • PREVENTION: HOW TO PROTECT YOURSELF FROM GETTING SICK: * Wash hands often with soap and water. * Alcohol-based hand cleaners also work well. * Avoid touching the eyes, nose or mouth. Germs on the hands can spread this way. * Try to avoid close contact with sick people. * Avoid ERs and urgent care clinics if you don't need to go. These are places where you are more likely to be exposed to flu.
  • PREVENTION: HOW TO PROTECT OTHERS - STAY HOME WHEN SICK: * Cover the nose and mouth with a tissue when coughing or sneezing. * Wash hands often with soap and water. After coughing or sneezing are important times. * Limit contact with others to keep from infecting them. * Stay home from school for at least 24 hours after the fever is gone. (CDC 2009).
  • FLUIDS: * Try to get your child to drink lots of fluids. * Goal: Keep your child well hydrated. * It also will thin out the mucus discharge from the nose. * It also loosens up any phlegm in the lungs. Then it's easier to cough up.
  • FLU SHOT AND PREVENTION: * Getting a flu shot is the best way to protect your family from flu. * Yearly influenza vaccines are strongly advised for all children over 6 months of age. (AAP) * Adults should also get the shot. * The shot most often prevents the disease. * Even if your child gets the flu, the shot helps to reduce the symptoms.


The information contained in these topics is not intended nor implied to be a substitute for professional medical advice, it is provided for educational purposes only. You assume full responsibility for how you choose to use this information.

Always seek the advice of your physician or other qualified healthcare provider before starting any new treatment or discontinuing an existing treatment. Talk with your healthcare provider about any questions you may have regarding a medical condition. Nothing contained in these topics is intended to be used for medical diagnosis or treatment.

  • Not a Substitute - The information and materials in Pediatric HouseCalls Symptom Checker should not be used as a substitute for the care and knowledge that your physician can provide to you.
  • Supplement - The information and materials presented here in Pediatric HouseCalls Symptom Checker are meant to supplement the information that you obtain from your physician. If there is a disagreement between the information presented herein and what your physician has told you -- it is more likely that your physician is correct. He or she has the benefit of knowing your child's medical problems.
  • Limitations - You should recognize that the information and materials presented here in Pediatric HouseCalls Symptom Checker have the following limitations, in comparison to being examined by your own physician:
    • You can have a conversation with your child's doctor.
    • Your child's doctor can perform a physical examination and any necessary tests.
    • Your child could have an underlying medical problem that requires a physician to detect.
    • If your child is taking medications, they could influence how he experiences various symptoms.

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