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Is It a Cold or the Flu?

Article Translations: (Spanish)

Your child has a sore throat, cough, and high fever. Could it be the flu? Or just a cold?

The flu usually makes kids feel worse than if they have a cold. But it's not always easy to tell the difference between the two. Here are tips on what to look for — and what to do.

Colds or Flu: Symptoms Guide

Answer these questions to see if your child has the flu or a cold:

Flu vs. Colds: A Guide to Symptoms

Questions Flu Cold
Did the illness come on suddenly? Yes No
Does your child have a high fever? Yes No
(or fever is mild)
Is your child's energy level very low? Yes No
Is your child's head achy? Yes No
Is your child's appetite less than normal? Yes No
Are your child's muscles achy? Yes No
Does your child have chills? Yes No

If most of your answers are "yes," chances are your child has the flu. If your answers are mostly "no," it's probably a cold.

When Should I Call the Doctor?

If you have any doubts, it's best to call the doctor. An illness that seems like a cold can turn out to be the flu. And other illnesses, like strep throat or pneumonia, can seem like the flu. Even doctors sometimes need to do a test to know for sure if a child has the flu or a cold.

It's important to get medical care right away if your child:

  • seems to be getting worse
  • has trouble breathing
  • has a high fever
  • has a bad headache
  • has a sore throat
  • seems confused

How Is the Flu Treated?

Most of the time, you can care for your child at home with plenty of liquids, rest, and comfort.

Even healthy children can struggle with the flu. But some kids — like those younger than 5 or kids with asthma — are more likely to have problems if they get the flu. In some cases, a doctor might prescribe an antiviral medicine to lessen flu symptoms.

What Can Parents Do?

  • Prevention is the best medicine. Make sure that everyone in your family gets a flu vaccine every year.
  • Teach your kids good hand washing habits to help stop the spread of flu.
  • If your child has asthma or another illness, call your doctor right away if your child shows signs of the flu. The doctor might need to give your child antiviral medicines, which only work when children start taking them within 48 hours of when flu symptoms start.

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Note: All information is for educational purposes only. For specific medical advice, diagnoses, and treatment, consult your doctor.

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