Colds vs. Flu in Kids

Of all the common childhood illnesses kids get throughout the year, the most difficult ones to diagnose for most parents are the flu and a cold. 

Dr. Perry Weisman and our team of medical experts at WiseCare Urgent Care are always ready to answer your questions and provide the comprehensive care your child needs. We understand that even relatively minor illnesses like the flu and the common cold can cause discomfort and disrupt your child’s and your family’s life. Here's how to tell the difference and how to treat them for the fast and full recovery.

Why is it so hard to tell the difference between a cold and the flu?

If you’ve been stumped trying to figure out if your kid has the flu or a cold, you’re not alone. That’s because they’re both caused by viruses that produce some of the same symptoms. But they are not the same viruses, so there are some subtle differences. The best way to know for sure if your child has the flu is to come in and have us test for the flu virus during the first few days your child is feeling sick.

How to identify a cold

Of the two illnesses, the common cold is less intense. Although colds and flu share some symptoms, all of them are milder in the cold. 

Colds come on gradually and may begin with a slight sore throat that gets a little worse over a day or two. Here are the classic symptoms of a cold:

Fever, and the aches and chills that often accompany it, are rare symptoms of a cold. 

How to treat a cold

There is no cure for the common cold, and most cases will resolve themselves after about a week. But if your child is uncomfortable, you can treat the symptoms. 

For a headache and other general discomforts, over-the-counter medications like acetaminophen (Tylenol™) and ibuprofen (Advil™) can help put your child at ease. But do not give your child or teen aspirin, as it’s been known to cause a severe condition called Reye syndrome.  

You should also steer clear of decongestants and antihistamines, especially for children under six. These medications are only minimally effective and may cause side effects like hallucinations or hyperactivity.

Here are some practical ways to relieve some of your child’s cold symptoms:

Colds are very contagious, so make sure your child stays home from school while they’re sick and wash their hands often. Dispose of all tissues and teach proper sneezing and coughing etiquette. 

In most cases, you’ll be able to treat your child’s cold at home. But if they begin coughing up a lot of mucus, have a high fever (103 or above), have trouble breathing, have swollen glands in the neck or a bad earache, see us.

How to identify the flu

The flu comes on quickly and hits you harder than a cold. Flu symptoms are also much worse than a cold. Classic signs include:

While your child might have a sore throat and some nasal issues, they are less common symptoms than those listed above. 

How to treat the flu

Like a cold, the flu has no cure and is contagious. Although, if necessary, we can administer an antiviral medication to help ease the symptoms and shorten the duration of the condition.

 If your child is younger than five, the flu can be especially taxing on their little body, and you should come in to see us. Or, if your child has respiratory challenges like asthma, the flu may lead to an attack or otherwise exacerbate breathing problems. It’s best to make sure your child is under a doctor’s care if you have any concerns.

Otherwise, like a clod, the flu will generally resolve on its own with plenty of liquids and lots of rest. You can help your child prevent getting the flu by making sure they receive the annual flu vaccination.

If your child has a cold that has gotten out of hand or the flu that’s causing significant discomfort and you need urgent care, call us for an appointment, book one online, or walk in. We have offices in Severna Park and Pasadena, Maryland, and our expert team is here to help. 

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