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Do you know the difference between a cold and the flu?

February 07, 2014

Have your kids been sick lately?

It’s that time of year, and everywhere I look kids are sniffling, sneezing or coughing. Sometime during this season, you’ll probably be dealing with it, too. When your kids get sick, can you tell whether you’re dealing with a simple cold or something more serious like the flu? Knowing the difference between the two can help you determine the best way to care for your child and know when to seek a doctor’s care.

Here are some ways to tell the difference between a cold and the flu:

  • A cold can have some of the same symptoms as the flu, but symptoms of a cold tend generally to be milder and of shorter duration. Cold symptoms may be bothersome for several days, whereas flu symptoms can linger several days to a few weeks.
  • Colds usually begin with a sore throat for a day or two followed by respiratory symptoms such as a runny nose or congestion. By the fourth or fifth day, a cough commonly develops. The flu tends to appear more suddenly with a sore throat, fever, headache, chills, muscle aches, congestion and cough. Some flu viruses are also associated with diarrhea and vomiting.
  • Although adults often don’t develop a fever with a cold, it’s not uncommon for kids to have a low-grade fever when they have a cold. In general, though, fevers tend to be lower (less than 101° F) with a cold and don’t last as long as they do with the flu. Fevers associated with the flu can be 100-102° F and can persist for 3 to 4 days.
  • The flu often brings with it fatigue and extreme exhaustion. If your child feels poorly in the morning, but seems to feel better throughout the day (good enough to go outside and play!), odds are they’ve got a cold. If they can’t muster the energy to get off of the couch all day, you might be dealing with something more serious like the flu.

When should I call the doctor?

If you suspect that your child may have the flu, it’s important to call your doctor as soon as you can, especially if your child is under 2 years of age. Depending on your child’s age and risk factors for developing complications, some antiviral medications may help your child have a shorter, less severe course of illness. The earlier these medications are given, the more effective they’ll be, so don’t wait.

If your child complains of an earache, has a cough that lasts more than a couple of weeks, has a fever that lasts more than a few days or experiences severe pain from a sore throat, make an appointment with your pediatrician.

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