How to Care for Your Child’s Cold and Flu?
The flu season in Singapore is upon us and it tends to occur during the cooler months from May to July, and from December to February. Flu or influenza is caused by viruses that infect the nose, throat or sinuses and cause the inflammation of mucus membranes in adults and children. Unlike bacterial infections which can be managed with antibiotics, there is no cure for the highly contagious flu virus.
Children, especially very young ones, tend to have weaker immune systems making them more susceptible to flu infections. In Singapore, children are recommended to take the flu vaccination when they reach 6 months old. It is also recommended that children aged between 6 months to 5 years get vaccinated every year to protect them against ever-evolving flu viruses.
What are the Causes and Risk Factors?
Influenza is caused by the flu virus which has 3 different types – Type A, Type B and Type C.
Types A and B are viruses commonly circulating globally and in communities and are responsible for seasonal outbreaks and epidemics. Between these two types, Type A causes more severe cases and complications like pneumonia especially in the elderly, the very young (5 years and below) and those with chronic conditions.
Type C is associated with mild sporadic illness and occurs less frequently. It does not have the severe impact that types A and B does.
What are the General Symptoms of Flu?
While these are common indicators of the flu, you may or may not have all the symptoms below:
- Sore throat
- Body aches
- Runny or stuffy nose
- Loss of appetite
Is there a Difference Between a Cold and the Flu?
These terms are often used interchangeably but it is important to note that they are caused by separate viruses and have different health implications. Colds tend to last for days, whereas the flu can run into weeks.
Compared to the cold virus, flu virus strikes more quickly, and it makes people feel worse. Children with cold usually have the energy to play and keep up with their daily routines. However, children with the flu are usually in bed due to fever, coughing and body aches.
Caring for Your Child’s Cold or Flu
The best you can do for your child is to ensure that they are comfortable. Besides getting enough rest, it is important to ensure that their fluid intake is sufficient as well. Here are some ways you can ease their symptoms:
Runny or Stuffy Noses
- Nose drops or sprays
Use salt water (saline) nose drops (1 to 2 drops in each opening of the nose (nostril)) or spray (1 to 2 sprays in each opening of the nose (nostril)). For infants, use a rubber suction bulb to suck out the extra drops or spray. When using the suction bulb, remember that before you put the bulb on the nose, you should first squeeze the bulb part of the syringe first. Then gently stick the rubber tip into one nostril, and then slowly let go of the bulb. This slight amount of suction will pull the clogged mucus out of the nose and should help her breathe and suck at the same time once again. You’ll find that this works best when your baby is under 6 months of age. As your baby gets older, he or she will fight the bulb, making it difficult to suck out the mucus, but the saline drops will still help.
Put a cool-mist humidifier (also called a vaporizer) in your child’s room to help the liquid that is making her nose stuffy thinner, so it is easier for your child to breathe. Put it close to your child (but safely out of your child’s reach) because the humidifier makes the area closest to it the moistest. Be sure to carefully clean and dry the humidifier each day to stop bacteria or mold from growing; bacteria and mold can make your child sick. Hot-water vaporizers should not be used, because the hot water can burn your child.
Coughing and sore throat
- Cough drops or lozenges
Consider cough drops or lozenges for children 4 and older. Do not give cough drops or lozenges to a child younger than 4 years because they could choke on them. Also, do not give your child more cough drops than what the instructions on the package say.
Drinking warm water mixed with honey is a time-honored method to soothe a sore throat and taking honey on its own may also be an effective cough suppressant.
IMPORTANT: Please note that honey should not be given to babies under a year old as it is unsafe for them.
- Mentholated rubs
For children ages 2 years and older, rub a thick layer on the top of the skin of their chest and on the throat area. The body’s warmth helps the medication go into the air slowly over time and it helps soothe a cough when they breathe it in, helping them sleep better.
IMPORTANT: Please remember to only apply mentholated rubs on the skin and not on any mucus membranes.
Fever and body aches
- If your child has a fever and is very uncomfortable, give them medication with just one ingredient – either acetaminophen OR ibuprofen. Always consult your pediatrician before giving ANY medicine to a child and seek a doctor right away if your child under 3 months of age has a fever.
- Do not give your child aspirin (acetylsalicylic acid), which has been linked with Reye syndrome, a rare but very serious illness that affects the liver and brain.
Always Remember to Consult a Certified Medical Professional
Colds and flu should not be taken lightly as the symptoms could cause much discomfort in the child. Do not give over-the-counter (OTC) cough and cold medications to children younger than 6 years old unless prescribed by the doctor and always be vary of the correct dosages. The above is just a guide to ease the symptoms and you should always seek proper advice and treatment by consulting a certified medical professional.
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