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For many families, battling the flu is a seasonal rite of passage: Up to one in five children will suffer through a bout this year, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
"But it can be a scary experience for any mom," says Dr. Kelly Orringer, a clinical professor of pediatrics at the University of Michigan. "Your child can get very sick, very fast."
To help ease your worries, we asked the experts to spell out what day-by-day flu symptoms to expect, how you should treat them, and when to call your pediatrician. By arming yourself with the flu facts, you can stop fretting -- and start taking charge!
"The first signs of flu are a runny nose, chills and body aches," says Dr. Stanley Grogg, a professor of pediatrics at Oklahoma State University and a spokesman for the American Osteopathic Association. "A child will feel pretty miserable within a 24-hour span."
Call your pediatrician:
Your little one is already contagious, says Grogg, so if you have a family member who is at risk for complications of the flu -- for example, an infant under the age of 6 months, or a senior citizen older than 65 -- an antiviral medication may be necessary. The course of two pills, which prevent the spread of flu, is most effective within 48 hours of the onset of your childâ€™s symptoms.
In addition, Grogg says you should take your child to the doctor if, at any point during the duration of the flu, your child runs a fever higher than 105 F, experiences painful, labored breathing, or stops drinking. Moms have good instincts about their kids, so if something feels really wrong, trust your gut and call your pediatrician.
"On the second day, a child usually starts running a high fever," says Grogg. "Sheâ€™ll also experience fatigue and a wet cough." He advises bringing down her fever and easing aches with acetaminophen or ibuprofen -- but avoid aspirin. "Giving a feverish child aspirin has been linked to a rare, but dangerous, condition called Reyeâ€™s syndrome," he says.
To prevent dehydration, Grogg recommends making sure that your child is drinking enough: Place a water bottle next to her bed and give her ice pops made with 100-percent fruit juice. And because most children also lose their appetite, he also suggests feeding her calorie-dense treats, like chocolate milk and smoothies.
Days 3 to 5
Is your child super-sick? Thatâ€™s normal. "This is when flu symptoms are at their worst," explains Orringer. Your kid may also start experiencing gastrointestinal problems, like vomiting and diarrhea; continue giving your child plenty of fluids and ibuprofen or acetaminophen, says Orringer. "For children older than 6, over-the-counter oral medications can provide relief." Other methods she recommends to ease the suffering:
- Brewing tea with honey (can help soothe a sore throat and cough)
- Using a saline spray and running a humidifier (can lessen congestion)
- Applying a topical cough-relief rub (can help your child sleep better)
Days 6 to 10
At last -- your child should start feeling better. If heâ€™s not showing improvement, call your pediatrician, says Grogg.
Your kid is also less contagious during this time, says Grogg, so itâ€™s safe to let him play with his siblings and friends again. Once your childâ€™s temperature is below 100 F for 24 hours (without the aid of acetaminophen or ibuprofen) and he no longer has an uncontrollable cough, Grogg recommends sending him back to school.
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Health - Your Day-by-day Flu Guide