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Spot flu symptoms in kids and know your treatment options

How to keep your kids healthy and happy all flu season long


By Larry Richmond, MD
October 11, 2018

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If you’re like most people, you’ve caught the flu many times. And chicken pox? Probably. Strep throat? Also likely. As an adult, your immune system has already been through the ringer. While these experiences were hard on your body in the short-term, they added up to a tougher immune system in the long-term.

Our little ones don’t have that luxury, or immune strength. In fact, a recent study from the Center for Infectious Disease Research and Policy showed that it’s the youngest kids who are most at risk of serious complications from the flu. And unfortunately hospitalizations due to influenza have spiked in the past decade – an indication that the flu may be getting harder to fight.

Spotting the flu early is key to a quicker recovery. Here’s how to identify flu symptoms in your kids, and how to treat the flu fast.

Flu symptoms in kids

Whether they pick it up on the playground, daycare or at school, the flu comes on quickly. And knowing how to spot the symptoms early can help your child recover and alleviate symptoms faster.

The first 48 hours are most important, and many parents have a hard time identifying whether their child is dealing with the flu versus a common cold.

Here are symptoms that signal it’s the flu, and not a cold:

  • It comes on suddenly
  • Fever is greater than 100 degrees Fahrenheit
  • Coughing is dry and gunk-free
  • There’s a noticeable headache
  • Child experiences sudden weakness or exhaustion
  • It’s accompanied by vomiting or diarrhea

What to do when your kid has the flu

If you suspect your child has the flu, getting help within the first 48 hours can speed recovery. In some cases your doctor may prescribe antivirals which can help protect from severe side effects, like ear infections.

24/7 online clinic, virtuwell

Available for children two years and older, virtuwell allows you to get treatment from anywhere and on any mobile device.

Here’s how it works:

  • A nurse practitioner will review your child’s symptoms and provide a treatment plan, all in about 30 minutes
  • If a prescription is needed, they can send it to any nearby pharmacy
  • Staff are available 24/7 for any follow-up questions

Start a virtuwell visit

Urgent care

Urgent cares offer walk-in treatment for the flu, no appointment necessary. They are open weekdays, weekends and some holidays.

In addition, six of our urgent cares have a pharmacy on site allowing you to get a prescription in about 10 minutes.

View HealthPartners urgent care wait times

View Park Nicollet urgent care wait times

Need Help? Call our 24/7 CareLine

When you need advice fast, call our CareLine (612-339-3663 or 800-551-0859) and speak to a registered nurse. Our nurse line can help answer questions about:

  • Symptoms your child is experiencing
  • Deciding between going to urgent care, or waiting to go to the clinic
  • Home treatment options and advice

When to go to the emergency room

Head into your nearest emergency room if your child shows any of the following symptoms.

  1. Your child is less than three months and has a fever (above 100.4 Fahrenheit).
  2. Your child is between three months and three years old, has a fever above 100.4 degrees, and is showing signs of major dehydration (dry eyes or mouth, hasn’t urinated in several hours).
  3. Your child has a fever and unusual breathing (panting, trouble breathing, wheezing).

No matter your course of action, recovering from seasonal flu can feel like a waiting game. As symptoms pass, there are several steps you can take to comfort your child and speed up recovery time.

Tips for treating the flu at home

  1. Hydration is the most important aspect. Encourage your child to take small sips of water, juice, chicken soup or warm liquids. They may have a reduced appetite, and that’s ok – but make sure they are drinking plenty of liquids.
  2. Rest will also speed recovery. Encourage naps, and help them get to bed early at night.
  3. Only give your child medication your doctor recommends. Ibuprofen or acetaminophen can help, but you should never give your child aspirin or over-the-counter flu medications. Call your doctor’s office to discuss your child’s specific symptoms and to get recommendations.
  4. Nasal spray is ok. Using a saline spray to open up your child’s clogged nose can help them breathe easier, and relax.

Unfortunately, flu season can last all winter. It has a way of coming into our lives when we least expect it. But knowing who to call and what your best options are at each stage can offer peace of mind for you, and get your little ones feeling better fast.

About Larry Richmond, MD

Larry Richmond, MD, is a family medicine doctor with Park Nicollet Clinic in Plymouth. He loves working with a wide variety of patients – they’re the reason he went into family medicine. Outside of work, Dr. Richmond enjoys traveling, boating and just about any form of exercise.

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