how to care for a child with the flu

how to care for a child with the flu

You can’t make the flu go away, but you can help make your child more comfortable. Learn how to treat your child’s flu symptoms.

A headache, a wicked cough, a sore throat. High fever and body aches, too. Your child has the flu and feels miserable. How can you help? Follow these steps – and add lots of TLC – to help ease some of your child’s discomfort.

Treat your child’s symptoms

Sore throat, congestion and cough.To soothe the cough, throat pain and any nasal symptoms associated with the flu:

  • Place a cool-mist humidifier in your child’s room.
  • If the child is old enough, have him or her gargle with warm salt water and then spit it out. Add 1/2 teaspoon of salt to 8 ounces of water.
  • Do NOT give a child any cold medicines or cough medicines without the OK from your child’s doctor.
  • For older children, check with your doctor regarding saline sprays or rinses.
  • Use a bulb syringe to help keep your baby’s or young child’s nasal passages clear if he or she is congested.

Fever. A fever is the most common sign of the flu. To help keep your child comfortable:

  • Give medications, including fever reducer, as prescribed by the doctor. Your doctor will probably advise you to use acetaminophen (Tylenol) or ibuprofen (Advil, Motrin). Never give aspirin to a child aged 19 or younger because of the risk for Reye syndrome. Keep all medications out of your child’s reach.
  • Keep the bedroom comfortably cool.
  • Dress your child in lightweight clothing.
  • Have your child drink plenty of fluids. Offer sips of water, ice chips, broth or other liquid every five minutes.
  • Give your child a lukewarm sponge bath if he or she:
    • Has a fever despite taking a fever reducer
    • Is vomiting and has a fever but can’t hold down medicine
    • Has a history of convulsion or seizure from fever in the past

NEVER use rubbing alcohol to lower your child’s fever. It can be absorbed into the skin and cause serious health problems.

Watch for signs of dehydration

Infants and young children can become dehydrated quickly if they are vomiting or have diarrhea. Some signs of dehydration in infants are:

  • Fewer tears than normal when crying
  • Extreme sleepiness
  • A sunken soft spot on her head
  • Fewer wet diapers than normal
  • Inactivity
  • Dry mouth
  • Skin that does not bounce back when gently pinched

Dehydration in older children is characterized by:

  • Dry mouth
  • Excessive thirst
  • Less urination or darker urine
  • Dizziness or lightheadedness
  • Headache
  • Inactivity
  • Fewer tears than normal when crying
  • Irritability, confusion, lack of consciousness
  • Fast heart rate
  • Muscle weakness

Treating dehydration. Your child needs to replace lost fluids. Offer one or two ounces of an oral rehydration solutions like Pedialyte, Rehyralyte or Infalyte every half hour or so. These contain the correct balance of salt and sugar to replace lost fluids If these are not available, offer fruit juices, decaffeinated tea, warm broth or chicken soup. Breast-fed babies can be offered breast milk for five minutes at a time as frequently as every half hour for several hours. If your older child won’t drink, an ice pop or gelatin can help keep him or her hydrated. Call your doctor if your child can’t keep down any fluids.

Try to get your child to eat

Your child may have an upset stomach, including diarrhea or vomiting. Though he may not feel like eating, doing so may help give him the energy that his body needs to fight the flu. Try to get him to eat small amounts of easily digested soft foods. Feed your older child:

  • Small amounts of rice, cereal, plain noodles, mashed potatoes and other foods high in starches.
  • Foods like bananas, applesauce, soda crackers, gelatin and popsicles are often well tolerated.

Avoid foods that are fatty, spicy or fried. Also avoid junk food.

Call 9-1-1 if your child

  • Has a sore throat that is so severe he can’t swallow his saliva or is drooling
  • Is unable to speak or cry
  • Looks very sick, lethargic or confused
  • Is having any trouble breathing
  • Is passing out or has a seizure or convulsions

Take your child to the emergency room if your child has

  • A very high fever. This means:
    • A child 3 months of age or younger who has a temperature of 100.4 degrees F or higher taken with a rectal thermometer, even if the child seems healthy otherwise.
    • An older child with a fever of 105 degrees F or higher
  • Signs of severe dehydration, including:
    • Very dry or parched mouth.
    • No tears.
    • Markedly sunken soft spot or sunken eyes.
    • Weakness or extreme irritability.
    • An older child may have intense thirst, be too dizzy to stand up or complain of muscle cramps.
  • Shaking chills
  • Severe abdominal pain, vomiting or diarrhea
  • A headache and a stiff neck

Call your doctor if your child has

  • A fever of 103 degrees F or higher that is not responding to treatment
  • A fever of 101 degrees or higher that lasts longer than 24 hours
  • Flu symptoms and has a chronic medical or developmental problem
  • Any signs of dehydration
  • Trouble nursing, taking a bottle or drinking
  • An increase in irritability or tiredness
  • Been getting better but then the fever came back or symptoms got worse

And remember, always call your doctor if you are concerned about any of your child’s symptoms or if your child just doesn’t look right to you. Trust your gut feelings.

Caring for ill family members can take a lot out of you. Make sure to care for yourself, too. Eat right, try to get as much sleep as possible and remember to wash your hands frequently, especially before and after caring for your child.

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