How Do Flu Symptoms Affect Your Children?
How To Care For Your Child When They Have The Flu
Seeing your child sick is heartbreaking, but watching them struggle with the flu is especially painful. The flu is a serious and highly contagious virus that most commonly circulates in the colder months of the year.
Children are considered particularly at risk of catching the disease, but what are the symptoms of the flu and how do they affect your children?
What Is the Flu?
The flu, also known asinfluenza, is one of many highly contagious respiratory illnesses that primarily affects the respiratory system. In addition to causing symptoms that affect the airways, the flu can also cause a high fever, body aches, headache, vomiting, and diarrhea.
Unlike the common cold, which typically resolves quickly and results in mild symptoms, the flu in children can be severe. The flu is incredibly common, particularly in the winter months, and while most children will recover quickly, others may require hospitalization.
For some children, including those considered at increased risk of complications, the flu can even be life-threatening.
Why Do Children Get the Flu?
Although we typically think of the flu as one specific infection, there are actually three different types of influenza viruses that can infect humans: influenza A, B, and C.
Influenza A is the most severe and contagious form of the flu and is responsible for global pandemics. Influenza B is a serious form of the disease, but it is not associated with global pandemics and is more likely to occur in a local area. Influenza C is a mild form of the illness that may cause some limited symptoms in the respiratory tract or may cause no symptoms at all.
Each type of influenza is primarily transmitted through the air in tiny droplets of water vapor that are expelled from the noses of people who are infected when they cough, sneeze, or speak. The flu viruses can also live briefly on surfaces, which means that healthy people can contract the flu by touching common surfaces that an infected person has touched, such as a doorknob, tablet, or phone, and then touching their eyes, nose, or own mouth.
Children have a tendency to be less vigilant about basic hygiene practices, such as frequent hand washing and covering their mouth and nose when they cough or sneeze, so they are more likely to get sick than adults in most situations. Additionally, children are often in close quarters at work or school, which makes infection more likely.
People are most contagious with the flu about 24 hours before symptoms begin and throughout the peak of their symptoms, typically about seven days. Because people with the flu are contagious before symptoms appear, the illness spreads very rapidly when people are out and about before they realize that they are sick.
What Flu Symptoms Do Children Have?
The symptoms of flu in children are somewhat different than the symptoms of flu in adults. While the flu is classified as a respiratory illness, it can cause symptoms throughout the body. Unlike a cold, which typically builds in intensity over a period of several days, children may experience a rapid onset of flu symptoms.
Symptoms of the flu in children include:
- Fever of up to 105 degrees Fahrenheit
- Runny nose or stuffy nose
- Body aches, muscle aches, and chills
- Fatigue or tiredness
- Cough that increases in severity
- Chest pain
- Sore throat
- Loss of appetite
While adults can experience any of the above symptoms, nausea, diarrhea, and vomiting are more commonly seen in children. When kids get sick with the flu, most will recover within about a week. However, it is possible for kids to feel very tired for up to a month after their other symptoms disappear.
What Flu Medicine Is Available For Children?
There are four primary types of medicine that can help address symptoms caused by the flu, including antiviral drugs, homeopathic remedies, acetaminophen, and cough medicine.
Antiviral drugs are medications that are specifically designed to help your body fight against the virus that causes the flu. These drugs are available by prescription only and come in the form of pills, liquids, inhaled powders, and intravenous solutions.
Antiviral drugs may be recommended for children who are very young or have other risk factors that may make them more likely to experience complications of the flu, such as asthma. These drugs are most effective when taken within two days of the onset of symptoms and may help to minimize symptoms and shorten the length of time your child spends sick. However, antiviral drugs do not cure the flu.
Homeopathic remedies are naturally derived remedies that are compatible with homeopathy, an alternative medicine practice based on the principle that “like cures like.”
Homeopathic remedies do not treat or prevent any disease, including the flu, but they may be helpful in addressing troublesome flu symptoms like fever, body aches, cough, and nasal congestion while supporting overall health.
Acetaminophen or Ibuprofen
Acetaminophen is a fever reducer and pain reliever that is commonly included as an active ingredient in over-the-counter medications. Acetaminophen can be given to children with the flu to relieve symptoms like body aches and headache, and it can also help lower a fever and make your child more comfortable.
Many over-the-counter medications contain acetaminophen or ibuprofen as an active ingredient in their cold and flu formulas alongside other active ingredients like dextromethorphan.
Avoid giving aspirin to children, as long-term aspirin therapy may increase their risk of Reye’s syndrome.
One of the most troublesome symptoms of the flu is a bad cough that keeps your child awake at night. In addition to being painful and uncomfortable, flu coughs can make it difficult for your child to get the amount of rest they need to recover.
Over-the-counter cough medications commonly contain active ingredients like dextromethorphan, a cough suppressant, which helps reduce your child’s urge to cough and can help them fall asleep. However, cough medicines have not been shown to be safe or effective in very young children and should not be given to children under the age of four.
What Are Some Possible Complications of the Flu In Children?
The flu is a serious illness that can cause severe and potentially life-threatening complications. While millions of children get sick with the flu each year, thousands of children arehospitalized. It is more common for children under the age of five and those with certain pre-existing medical conditions to experience flu complications, but any child can experience complications of the illness.
Possible complications of the flu in children include:
- Pneumonia, an infection of the lungs that can be life-threatening
- Sinus infections and ear infections
- Worsening of pre-existing chronic health issues, such as asthma or heart problems
- Dehydration, commonly occurring as a result of high fever, vomiting, or diarrhea in children who are unable to keep down fluids
- Encephalopathy, or swelling of the brain
In rare cases, these complications can be life-threatening or require an extended hospital stay.
Which Children Are Considered Most At Risk of Experiencing Flu Complications?
Any child can experience flu complications; however, very young children (those under the age of five) and children with chronic health conditions, such as asthma, kidney disease, liver problems, or diabetes, are considered particularly susceptible to complications. These children are more likely to be hospitalized for the flu or experience a severe form of the illness.
It is possible for any child to get the flu. However, children are more likely to catch the flu if they spend time around people who have the illness, have not been vaccinated against the flu, or do not practice good hygiene by washing their hands regularly.
The best way to lower your child’s risk of catching the flu virus and experiencing complications is to get flu shots each year. The flu vaccine is developed each year to be as effective as possible against the strains that are anticipated to be the most prevalent during the upcoming flu season. Getting your child vaccinated as soon as the flu vaccine becomes available, typically in October, is the best way to minimize their chances of becoming seriously ill.
The flu causes a wide range of symptoms in children, including a fever as high as 105 degrees Fahrenheit, body aches, cough, sore throat, runny or stuffy nose, headache, nausea, vomiting, and diarrhea.
Children are considered to be at a higher risk of experiencing nausea, vomiting, and diarrhea than adults, which puts them at increased risk for dehydration. Flu symptoms can be addressed through the use of antiviral drugs, homeopathic remedies, acetaminophen, and cough medicine.
However, the best way to minimize your child’s risk of getting seriously ill with the flu is to ensure that they are fully vaccinated.