Article at a Glance

  • The flu is much worse than a cold and can potentially be deadly for people with a weakened immune system.
  • If your child’s illness came on suddenly and symptoms include a high fever, severe exhaustion, headache, loss of appetite, achy muscles, and chills, then it is most likely the flu.
  • Don’t confuse the stomach flu with the flu – the stomach flu involves the digestive tract and the flu involves the respiratory tract.

Your child has a sore throat, cough, and high fever. Is it the flu or just a common cold? It is not always easy to tell. Sometimes even doctors have to test to be sure.

A cold and the flu are both caused by viruses, but the flu is caused by an influenza virus. It is much worse than a cold and can potentially be deadly for people with a weakened immune system. The flu targets the upper and/or lower respiratory tract and can leave you feeling miserable for days.

The flu is often confused with the stomach flu (gastroenteritis), but they are not related. The stomach flu involves your stomach and intestines and can be caused by viruses, bacteria, or parasites. Symptoms include things like nausea, vomiting, and diarrhea.

If you are wondering whether your child has a small cold or the more serious flu, the questions below will help you get a better idea of what kind of virus you are dealing with.

Cold and Flu Q&A

1. My child’s illness came on suddenly.

    • Yes
    • No

2. My child has a high fever.

    • Yes
    • No

3. My child is severely exhausted.

    • Yes
    • No

4. My child has a headache.

    • Yes
    • No

5. My child doesn’t feel like eating.

    • Yes
    • No

6. My child’s muscles are achy.

    • Yes
    • No

7. My child has the chills.

    • Yes
    • No

If you answered “Yes” to most of the questions, your child probably has the flu. If you answered “No,” it’s more likely a cold. However, it is important to remember that flu symptoms vary from person to person and that symptoms can change as the sickness progresses.

Most children who have a cold or flu don’t need to see a doctor unless there are complications or they are in a high-risk group. To prevent the flu, the CDC recommends that most people 6 months of age and older get an annual flu shot.

High-Risk Groups:
Be extra careful with children with chronic medical conditions and with infants. If your child has a chronic condition or is under two years old, you will want to call your doctor if you think your child has the flu.

If you feel your child needs to be seen or your child is getting worse, call your doctor. You will also want to call your doctor if your child:

  • has trouble breathing
  • has a high fever or a fever that lasts more than 3 days
  • has a bad headache
  • seems confused
  • is dehydrated
  • has an earache or sinus pain
  • has nasal discharge lasting more than 14 days
  • has a cough lasting more than 3 weeks

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