There’s no denying it – being sick as a child sucks. The main problem is how to treat a cold or flu when your child comes down with the cold or flu, you’ll want to give them whatever help you can to make them feel better and recover faster. The first thing to do is take your child’s temperature, which will tell you whether they have a fever and what they need to do to feel better. Next, assess their symptoms so you can determine whether they need medication or rest more than anything else.
How to Treat a Cold or Flu in Babies
If your child is younger than 6 months old, consult your pediatrician before giving her any medication. If she’s older than 6 months, ibuprofen can be very effective for both reducing fever and relieving pain. Paracetamol (also known as acetaminophen) also works well for children, but does not reduce temperature or have pain-relieving properties.
Both medications work well together and are safe for most children with colds. Don’t use aspirin on children unless specifically recommended by your pediatrician; it has been linked to Reye’s syndrome, a rare but life-threatening illness among young children. For babies under 3 months of age, use caution when using either ibuprofen or paracetamol since their kidneys may not yet be fully developed. Ask your doctor how much you should give them and whether you should mix it with water first.
For older children, follow dosage instructions carefully—overdosing on these medications can cause serious health problems. Aspirin should never be given to infants under 12 months of age.
In high doses, vitamin C is an effective treatment for colds. And unlike some medications, it has no harmful side effects. To treat your child’s cold, give him one teaspoon of vitamin C every hour until he begins feeling better.
After that, continue giving him two teaspoons per day until his cold has completely subsided. To avoid stomach upset, dilute each dose with at least 8 ounces of water or juice before administering it. If you choose not to use vitamin C, there are many other home remedies you can try. For example, making sure your child gets plenty of rest and fluids can help her feel better faster.
Additionally, chicken soup—which contains nutrients like zinc and calcium—can help reduce inflammation in nasal passages caused by colds. As always, check with your doctor before treating your child’s illness at home. He may recommend over-the-counter medication if she needs more immediate relief from symptoms like congestion or fever.
Watch Your Child’s Diet
When a baby has cold or flu, their appetite may go down for days at a time. If your baby is more than three months old, you can offer them breast milk or formula even if they don’t want it; otherwise, try offering them small amounts of food. Pediatricians say that you should never try to make babies eat when they’re not hungry (as tempting as it may be). Offer fluids frequently, such as water and electrolyte-rich liquids like Pedialyte.
After 24 hours of eating less, when it looks like your child’s appetite is going to stay down for longer than one day, feed them very little carbohydrate—sweet potatoes are okay; rice isn’t—and pureed fruit and vegetables. This will help keep them hydrated while keeping calories low. And remember: no matter how much they beg, never give babies anything with caffeine in it! Caffeine can trigger vomiting and diarrhea, which makes dehydration worse.
Watch Your Child’s Rest
Like adults, children should get plenty of rest when they have colds or flu. Most pediatricians recommend allowing your child to sleep extra hours (or letting him sleep longer on weekends) if he appears tired or is having trouble keeping up with play.
You should also encourage kids to drink extra fluids when they’re sick, as dehydration can aggravate symptoms. In addition, make sure your child eats enough calories; despite common wisdom that kids should be allowed to skip meals while they’re ill, skipping breakfast might make it more difficult for your child to eat enough during lunch. And remember: The earlier you get medical help for your child’s illness, the sooner she can recover. It’s best to call your doctor or schedule an appointment online rather than waiting until after-hours, when doctors are most likely busy.
That said, don’t expect miracles from antibiotics—they won’t cure everything. Even though most cases of colds and flu are caused by viruses, not bacteria, antibiotics can treat bacterial infections caused by germs like strep throat. Antibiotics may also help fight bacterial infections related to earaches or sinusitis (though some people believe antibiotics are over prescribed for these conditions). However, antibiotics will do nothing against viral infections like those related to colds and flus.
Support Your Loved One
The first thing you should do when your child is sick with a cold or flu is provide emotional support. It’s normal for him to be miserable and not feel like eating, so make sure he knows that you’re on his side (and that you understand how miserable he feels).
Try giving him frequent small portions of healthy food, such as plain chicken broth or homemade chicken soup, rather than insisting he eat more-appealing meals. Remember that it will likely take longer for him to get better while dealing with a cold/flu than it would with an infection caused by bacteria, because viruses don’t respond well to antibiotics.
In fact, there are no antiviral medications specifically approved for children. While there isn’t much evidence to suggest that any specific treatments can shorten a cold or flu—other than pain relievers—your doctor may prescribe antihistamines if your child has nasal congestion, cough medicine if she has a dry cough, and fever reducers if she has a high temperature.
Make sure she gets plenty of rest and drinks lots of fluids throughout her illness; these two things can help prevent dehydration. If she has vomiting or diarrhea during her illness, call your doctor immediately; these symptoms can quickly lead to dehydration and require medical attention.