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Does Your Child Have a Cold or the Flu?

Does Your Child Have a Cold or the Flu?

Does your child have a cold or the flu (aka influenza)? Neither are fun. And unfortunately, both run rampant this time of the year! There is nothing worse than having it freezing cold outside and having a house full of sick kids, except maybe sick parents AND sick kids!

I am a bit of a worrier (it’s the nurse in me!) and I always want to KNOW what is wrong with my kids, even if I can’t do anything about it. And although you can’t tell for certain whether your child has a cold or the flu without having your healthcare provider diagnose them, you can get a pretty good idea from the symptoms they have.

Does my child have a cold or the flu?

Cold Symptoms

Cold symptoms usually begin with a sore throat, followed a few days later by a runny or stuffy nose and possibly a mild fever. Kids may not “act” sick. You know, like when they have a fever but yet are running all over the house… Also, they often will have difficulty breathing through their nose and will feel really stuffed up.

A cold typically lasts for about 3-10 days.

Other cold symptoms may include:

  • sneezing
  • a cough (usually a wet (productive) cough)

Flu Symptoms

Flu symptoms come on fast and furious, often starting with a moderate to high fever, chills, and severe body aches. Kids will likely “act” sick. Like on the couch, sleeping in the middle of the day, don’t even want to watch TV, sick.

 The worst flu symptoms usually last 5-7 days with milder symptoms lingering for a few weeks.

Other flu symptoms include:

  • extreme tiredness
  • a runny nose (usually mild)
  • stuffy nose (usually mild)
  • a cough (typically dry (unproductive))
  • a sore throat (sometimes)
  • a headache
  • nausea (more often in children)
  • vomiting (more often in children)
  • stomachache (more often in children)

In young children, you may not know if they have a sore throat, a headache, or body aches. Often these symptoms show as an aversion to eating (breastfeeding, bottle feeding, or solids) or they not wanting to be held.


When is the flu an emergency in children?

Call 911 if:

  • If your child has trouble breathing or is breathing fast
  • They have bluish skin

Call your healthcare provider immediately if:

  • Your child hasn’t breastfed or drank water or other fluids for several hours
  • They have no or significantly fewer wet diapers than normal
  • They have no tears when crying
  • It is hard to wake them up or they don’t interact
  • They don’t want to be held because it hurts or they are very irritable
  • They start to improve and flu-like symptoms begin to go away for a day or two, but then return worse.
  • They have a fever with a rash
  • If your baby is under three months old and has a fever over 100F (37.8C) degrees


Whether your child has a cold or the flu, the treatment is pretty much the same. Basically, lots of rest, lots of fluids, cuddles (but wash your hands!!!), and over-the-counter medications for fever and cold symptoms (check with your child’s healthcare provider before giving cold medicine to your child under 6!). See WebMD for more information about cold and flu treatments for children.


If your child has flu symptoms or is closely exposed to someone with flu symptoms and is at high risk for complications from the flu, your healthcare provider may want to prescribe an antiviral.

Children considered high risk are kids under two years old or kids who have chronic health conditions such as diabetes or asthma. Antivirals, such as Tamiflu, can help lessen the symptoms of the flu and work best if given within the first 48 hours of the onset of symptoms.

If you are interested or want more information about antiviral medications for the flu, check with your healthcare provider.

The best protection

The two best ways to protect yourself and your family from getting a cold or the flu is to make sure all caretakers and household members over the age of six months have had their flu shot and to wash hands frequently and keep them away from the nose, mouth, and eyes.

If you have a new baby check out my recent post, 11 Ways to Protect Your Baby from the Flu.

We can’t always prevent ourselves and our children from getting a cold or the flu, but we can do our best. And let’s hope summer comes quickly and we get through this “cold and flu season” relatively unscathed!


Contact me or comment below if you have any questions, comments, or post ideas! I would love to hear from you!

About The Author


I’m Anne, a mama, certified lactation specialist and registered nurse, and I am so glad to be able to share my blog with you. I have been working with moms and babies for years as a maternal-child public health nurse. I created The New Mama Nurse because I want to help mamas on their personal health and wellness journey. I want you to be able to find relevant, helpful and up-to-date information so you are empowered to make informed decisions for you and your family. If you have a topic that you would like me to write about please email or comment and I will do my best to respond in a timely manner.  If you want to learn more about me or this blog check out my about me page.

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