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Tis the Season: Do You Know the Difference Between a Cold and the Flu?

Tis the Season: Do You Know the Difference Between a Cold and the Flu?

When your child is feeling under the weather, you want to get them back to health as soon as possible. Symptoms of a cold and the flu are quite similar. Knowing which one your child has can help you understand the best treatments and potential health complications.

Here are a few tips from our team at Penguin Pediatrics about understanding the difference between a cold and the flu and how you can help your child feel their best, fast.

Suspect a cold

Usually, the common cold causes more mild symptoms as compared to the flu. The symptoms come on rather gradually and may start with a stuffy nose, sore throat, or sneezing. If your child can describe their symptoms, they may complain of aching or feeling more tired than usual.

Rarely does a cold lead to a fever, but young children may run a low-grade one. A cold can cause congestion that leads to an ear infection, which can cause a fever or a bacterial sinus infection. If we detect one of these minor complications from a cold, we can prescribe antibiotics to help your child feel better fast. 

Expect your child to feel better within a few days, but the symptoms may linger for up to a week. 

If your child is showing signs of a cold, keep them home from school or daycare for the first three days or so. This is the time that they’ll feel their worst and that they’re most likely to spread the cold to others. 

Suspect the flu

While a cold gradually develops, the flu hits fast and hard. Your child will seem quite fatigued and complain, if they can, of muscle aches. 

The flu usually causes chills and a fever, chest congestion, cough, and headaches. Similar to a cold, the flu can give your child a sore throat and runny or stuffy nose. If you suspect your child has the flu, it’s best to bring them in to make sure their symptoms are managed. 

Young children have compromised immunity, so the flu can be more serious than it is in adults. The flu can progress to bronchitis or pneumonia, and in severe cases it may require hospitalization.

Your child should begin to recover from their most severe flu symptoms within a few days, but if fatigue or other symptoms last for a week or longer -- come in for a sick visit. Keep your child home from school or daycare until they’re feeling better and no longer running a fever. 

An official diagnosis

We do have diagnostic tests for the flu that are most accurate when done in the first few days of illness. So, if you suspect your child has the flu, make an appointment with us right away.

Also, know that the symptoms of cold and flu are similar to those associated with COVID-19. If you suspect your child has been exposed to COVID, get a rapid test right away. 

Caring for the cold or flu at home

In most cases, you can care for your child at home. We can help you understand the most appropriate over-the-counter medications to use for your child. These will ease symptoms but not cure the illness. Rest, lots of fluids, and steam therapy can help keep your child comfortable as the illness runs its course. 

If your child shows a lingering fever, pressure around the sinuses, or ear pain, come to our office to make sure they don’t have a complication that requires antibiotics or other treatments. 

It’s concerning whenever your child feels sick. If you suspect your child has the flu or complications of a cold, call one of our offices in Stone Ridge or Ashburn, Virginia, or use the online booking tool to make an appointment.

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