Is it a Cold or the Flu?

Ask the Experts by Dr. Banu Kumar

Q: How can I tell the difference between a cold or the flu in my child? When should I be concerned?

A: As a parent, your first goal is always to get your child comfortable when they aren't feeling well. Then you begin to question how serious is this? Has anyone else been sick lately? Is this the flu or just a cold?

It can be difficult to tell the difference, because flu and the common cold are both respiratory illnesses. They can have the same sore throat, runny nose, congestion and cough. Fortunately, there are some ways to identify which is occurring, but they don't replace the importance of consulting with a doctor.

  • The common cold is usually accompanied by milder symptoms.
  • Flu can make you feel very sick, with fevers, body aches, headaches, sore throat, chills and tiredness.
  • Vomiting and diarrhea are also possible symptoms of influenza.
  • Flu comes on rapidly and keeps up each day without much progress toward healing.

One thing to remember, however, is that not everyone with flu gets a fever. Do not discount the chance your child has influenza if their other symptoms are severe, but they have no fever.

Prevention is the best medicine. Practicing proper hand washing and sanitization methods at home and out in the community can help stave off colds and flu. I also recommend that everyone, 6 months and older, get the flu vaccination every year.

Dr. Banu Kumar is the chief of pediatric medicine at Children's Hospital of Michigan (www.childrensdmc.org) Children's Hospital of Michigan DMC is a member of the Family Center's Association of Professionals.

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