Young children generally end up with many illnesses throughout the year, but the flu is an especially nasty virus that can knock the energy out of even the most active toddler. And while you’ve almost certainly had the flu yourself once or twice, helping your little one through the same thing is a very different experience.
The flu (short for “influenza”) is a viral infection that affects the nose, throat, and lungs. Typically, the time of year when the flu seems to be just about everywhere comes any time between October and April, but it’s possible to come down with the flu any time of year.
According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, young children often need medical care for the flu, and serious complications are most common in children under 2 years old. This means it’s important to know what to look for in terms of symptoms, and how to appropriately treat the virus to avoid more complications.
Often confused with the common cold, flu symptoms are generally more severe than the same symptoms when they’re caused by a cold. A child with a cold may have a low-grade fever, runny nose, and coughing as his main symptoms. In the flu, those symptoms often show up, but can be accompanied by other symptoms, including:
Muscle or body aches
Vomiting or diarrhea
Treating your child’s symptoms
At this age, if you think your child has the flu, it’s a good idea to check in with his pediatrician. The virus will probably run its course in about a week. Your child’s doctor will probably make these suggestions for getting your little one back to good health:
- Fluids: Lack of appetite is common with the flu, so to avoid dehydration, it’s important to make sure your child is consuming plenty of fluids.
- Rest: Since he will probably not have his usual energy level, encourage lots of downtime and extra naps to help him heal.
- Medications: If he complains of body aches or has a high fever, ibuprofen or acetaminophen can help reduce the discomfort. Ask your child’s doctor about dosing instructions.
For a child who is congested, saline spray, and a nasal syringe can help clear mucus from his stuffy nose. A humidifier can also help him breathe easier.
Call the doctor right away if your child:
Has a fever above 104 degrees
Seems difficult to rouse
Is not consuming enough fluids or shows signs of dehydration like tearless crying, no urine or small amounts of very dark urine, or dry or cool skin
Develops any type of rash
Has difficulty breathing
Preventing the flu
The CDC recommends the flu vaccine for children, since young children are considered most at risk for developing complications from the virus. Children can be vaccinated against the flu as early as 6 months, and children who have not been vaccinated in the past will need two doses of the vaccine. Speak to your child’s pediatrician about when the vaccine will be available, and what is recommended in terms of providing full protection for him against the virus.
“Flu Information for Parents with Young Children.” Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. U.S. Department of Health & Human Services, August 20 2015. Web.