What You Need to Know About Colds and Flu According to Pediatrician Moms
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We are well into cold and flu season. The “crud,” as we affectionately call it at my house, has already made its rounds. I’m sure there will be at least a few more colds before we trade colds and flu for allergy season in the spring. To minimize our engagement with the germs of the season, I decided to do a little research. Who better to provide guidance for cold and flu season than pediatricians who are also moms. That’s why I reached out to two local pediatricians, Dr. Julie M. Pinder of Robinhood Pediatrics & Adolescent Medicine in Winston-Salem and Dr. Ashley Xu of Northwest Pediatrics in Greensboro. I also tapped WebMD’s Dr. Hansa Bhargava.
Avoiding Colds and Flu
Our experts all agree that one of the best ways to arm your family against the flu is to ensure everyone over 6 months old receives a flu vaccine annually between October and March. Children under age 2 as well as members of the family who are immune compromised must receive the inactivated flu vaccine. And while others typically receive the live attenuated influenza vaccine (LAIV), Dr. Pinder notes that there were distribution problems with the LAIV this year. She recommends receiving the inactivated version rather than waiting if your provider has not yet received LAIVs.
To keep the more than 100 cold strains at bay, hand washing remains your best protection. In addition, Dr. Xu recommends family members avoid sharing drinks, food, utensils and cups as well as practice good coughing and sneezing hygiene, such as coughing or sneezing into an elbow — not hands — and stepping away from others. Parents should also keep hand sanitizers readily available for use on the go.
Prevention is important, as well. Healthy eating habits, including eating lots of fruits, vegetables and lean proteins, can help keep immune systems strong. “A colorful diet full of fruits and vegetables will contain vitamins that will help the immune system — so keep pushing those great foods,” suggests Dr. Bhargava.
When to Call the Doctor
Unfortunately, getting sick is part of growing up. For many viral illnesses, children can be successfully cared for at home. Children experiencing symptoms such as cough, nasal congestion, nasal drainage, sore throat and headache, as long as they are handling their symptoms well and do not have a persistent fever, will need only rest, fluids and tender loving care to recover.
For some symptoms, a visit to the pediatrician should be scheduled. Children of any age experiencing more than two bouts of vomiting or diarrhea in one day, difficulty breathing, rash or earache should be seen in the pediatrician’s office.
The following symptoms are indicative (but not all-inclusive) of additional symptoms that warrant a doctor’s visit for infants:
- A fever of 100.4 or higher
- Unable to nurse or bottle feed
- Unable to sleep or inconsolably fussy
Toddlers and older children with these additional symptoms (again, this list is not all inclusive) should also see their doctor:
- A fever that lasts more than 2-3 days
- A fever of 101 or higher
- Loss of appetite
For children of any age, signs of respiratory distress or bluish skin (cyanosis) require immediate emergency medical attention.
Regardless of recommended lists, when in doubt, call your pediatrician’s office. It is always better to be conservative and err on the side of caution when it comes to the health of your child.
The Road to Recovery
It is important to remember that when it comes to colds and flu, symptoms typically peak during days 2 and 3, but can last up to two weeks. Seven to 10 days can be a long, exhausting haul with a sick child. Everyone, parents included, will need plenty of fluids and rest.
“Try to get them to eat and drink small amounts frequently,” recommends Dr. Xu. “Encourage napping and avoid unnecessary sporting activities or school if the child is experiencing fevers.”
For hydration, offer electrolyte drinks, juices, broth, water and popsicles. Popsicles also help with fever and soar throats. “I often freeze 100 percent juice and make my own popsicles,” says Dr. Bhargava.
“Parents who are caring for sick children or who are sick themselves need to ask for help. Often relatives or close friends are willing to help, especially taking care of the non-sick individuals in the family,” says Dr. Pinder. “If elderly family members offer to help, they can possibly run errands for the family or drop off meals.”
In addition, Dr. Xu points out that parents need to sleep when they can and take care of themselves by eating well.
In addition to cold foods like popsicles, sherbet and ice cream for sore throats, thick honey can alleviate soar throats and coughing in children over the age of 1. “I don’t usually recommend cough or cold medicines for most kids,” says Dr. Bhargava.
Dr. Pinder agrees, “Over the counter cold and cough medicines do not improve cold symptoms and may have side effects.”
A cool mist humidifier, as long as it’s maintained properly, can also offer symptom relief according to Dr. Xu.
For fever, acetaminophen or ibuprofen may be needed. Prescription medications are not recommended unless the patient has been diagnosed with the flu within the first 48 hours. In that instance, the doctor may prescribe Tamiflu. If a secondary bacterial infection develops, antibiotics may be prescribed.
And while recovering members of the family may be ready to head back out to school and work after several days cooped up, it is important to keep them home until for at least 24 hours after you are sure their fever is gone.
About Our Local Experts
Dr. Julie M, Pinder of Robinhood Pediatrics & Adolescent Medicine was originally born and raised in New York before moving to North Carolina to attend UNC-Chapel Hill. From there she moved to Winston-Salem where she received her medical degree from Wake Forest University School of Medicine in 1994. She completed her residency at North Carolina Baptist Hospital and soon thereafter joined Robinhood Pediatrics and Adolescent Medicine. When not caring for children in the office, Dr. Pinder and her husband are the busy parents of five children. Robinhood Pediatrics & Adolescent Medicine is located at 1350 Whitaker Ridge Drive NW, Winston-Salem. Visit them online at nhrobinhoodpedsandteens.org.
Dr. Ashley Xu of Northwest Pediatrics earned her undergraduate degree at Davidson College and her Medical Degree from Wake Forest University School of Medicine. She completed a pediatric residency at Wake Forest Baptist Medical Center. Upon completing her residency in 2012, Dr. Xu began practicing in Winston-Salem. She and her family then moved to Greensboro and joined Northwest Pediatrics in August 2014. She is inspired by the opportunity to help children and families through the trials and joys of infancy and childhood. She believes her experience as a mom of two has made her a better pediatrician. Northwest Pediatrics is located at 4529 Jessup Grove Road, Greensboro. Visit them online at northwestpeds.com.
About Our WebMD Expert
Dr. Hansa Bhargava is WebMD's expert pediatrician. She oversees the team of medical experts responsible for ensuring the accuracy, credibility, and timeliness of the pediatric content on the site, including Raising FIT Kids and FIT. Dr. Bhargava is a graduate of the University of Toronto Faculty of Medicine. She completed her residency at the Hospital for Sick Children in Toronto and a 1-year fellowship in gastroenterology and nutrition at The Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia. She is board certified in pediatrics. She lives in Atlanta and has two children. Visit WebMD at webmd.com. Interested in the WebMD app? Access it at webmd.com/mobile.