There’s nothing worse than watching your little one struggle with a cold or flu?

The stuffy nose, the terrible cough, the watery eyes. Not to mention the burning fever and the cries that they can’t sleep … it’s enough to make any parent feel helpless.

We’ve all been there. And we’ve probably all spent hours googling ways to help our kids when cold or flu symptoms strike. But before you reach for the blankets, the humidifier and the eucalyptus oil, find out how to differentiate between a cold and the flu, as well as the facts and myths behind some of the common cold and flu remedies.

two young girls sat on bed with cold blowing their nose with tissue

Is it a cold or the flu? How to tell the difference

It’s a common misconception that a cold and the flu are one of the same. Some people even used the term ‘cold’ and ‘flu’ interchangeably. While both a cold and the flu are caused by viruses, the flu (influenza) is caused by a different virus and is usually much more serious than a cold.

This handy chart from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention might come in useful when trying to work out whether your child has a cold or the flu.

Differences between cold and flu symptoms in a chart

Children's cold and flu myths — busted

Myth 1:  Dress your tot warmly to help “sweat out” a cold

No amount of warm clothing or fuzzy blankets will help your little one sweat out a cold. Many kids love blankets when sick for the comfort level, but adding an extra layer won’t make those germs go away any quicker.

Myth 2:  Feed a cold and starve a fever

It’s not uncommon for kids to lose their appetite when under the weather. But this doesn’t mean you should stop offering foods. Keep your little one hydrated with plenty of fluids. If your child is hungry, feed them. Soups, stews and broths are three good options. They’re easy to digest, won’t irritate a sore throat, warming and nourishing too. #winning

Myth 3:  Avoid dairy if you’re sick

This isn’t really necessary. So dairy might make your phlegm feel thicker but, according to Mayo Clinic, it doesn’t actually cause you to produce more phlegm. And in fact, dairy, particularly when frozen, can soothe the throat. Also, little ones will often require extra breastfeeds when feeling under the weather. So don’t limit their milk intake, even if they are stuffed up. Try a vaporizer to help ease congestion and reduce excess phlegm instead.

Myth 4: Cold temperatures can make you sick

Sorry Grandma, but cold weather does not bring on a cold. Colds and the flu come from viruses often in other humans and on surfaces, not in the cold air. Actually, did you know that the flu virus can live on hard surfaces for more than eight hours? See, this is why it pays to wash your hands regularly.

Myth 5: Humidifiers help treat colds

While ‘Cool Mist’ humidifiers are useful for allergies and dry environments, they don’t do anything to help cold and flu symptoms. However, studies have shown that adding chamomile essential oil or eucalyptus oil to the steam can help relieve cold symptoms due to their antiviral and antimicrobial properties.

Using a warm steam vaporiser, like the Euky Bear Steam Vaporiser or Vicks Vaporizer, can certainly help clear congestion. Warm steam relaxes and soothes the throat muscles, loosens congestion and eases the cough reflex. All of which can help your little one get a sound night’s sleep.

Also, because steam is warm, it’s bacteria-free so it has great natural benefits in relieving the symptoms of coughs and colds.

Steam vaporisers are designed to be used with inhalants. These are usually blends of natural essential oils, with therapeutic benefits. Inhalants, such as Vicks VapoSteam Inhalant, can enhance the benefits of using warm steam. There’s even blends to promote calmness and sleep.  cold and flu myths

Treating children's cold and flu symptoms

In most cases, a cold will resolve itself. It can take a few days, up to a week, for the body to fight the virus but then the symptoms should start to reduce.

Because there is no cure for the common cold, treatment should focus on relieving the symptoms. The main ways to do this include rest, plenty of fluids and eating healthy and nourishing foods, such as homemade chicken soup. Yum!

Paracetamol and ibuprofen can be used to reduce fever and relieve pain (such as headache or sore throat) but always talk to a healthcare professional first. Make sure you are aware of the age restrictions, correct dosing and how often you can administer.

We prefer to start off with the non-pharmacological options first. Just personal preference! Gargling with warm salty water (not a favourite for most kids) or sucking on ice chips can be helpful for managing a sore throat. Nasal decongestant sprays, as well as saline sprays and drops, are also useful for clearing a blocked nose.

A eucalyptus-based medicated chest rub can be used as a natural ‘expectorant’. Expectorants assist in making the body’s mucous secretions less thick. Breaking down the mucous makes it easier to cough. Eucalyptus oil is also a proven natural antibacterial and antimicrobial. Plus the scent is super soothing, helping sick, unhappy kids to feel a bit better.

Here at Mum Central we like to prepare ourselves for cold and flu season by shopping the essentials before coughs and colds strike. This way you’re armed with everything you need to take care of your little cherub. Shop your cold and flu essentials now…before illness strikes!

Preventing the spread of cold and flu

Optimal hygiene practices are vital for helping to prevent the spread of colds and flu. Some of the key practices that can help include:

  • Talking to your child and showing them how to cover their nose and mouth with a tissue when they cough or sneeze (If they don’t have a tissue handy they can cough or sneeze into their inner elbow or hand.)
  • Washing hands with soap and warm water, especially after coughing, sneezing or blowing their nose
  • Avoiding touching their eyes, nose or mouth
  • Avoiding close contact with people (Sorry mum, might mean a day or two off school!)
  • Disinfecting surfaces, door knobs, children’s toys — particularly in communal environments

The single most effective way to prevent flu is the flu vaccine. The CDC recommends that everyone over the age of six months should get an annual flu vaccine. Of course, this is a matter of personal choice. Want more info? Here’s everything parents need to know about the flu shot for kids.

Author

Leanne is Mum Central's Editor-in-Chief. A former Sydneysider, she turned her ideas of a sea change into reality and now lives with her family in beautiful South-West WA. A lover of yoga and travel, like most mums, she’s on a quest to create a better work-life balance. When she’s not pulling socks out from behind the sofa or sponging little hand prints off the walls, she’s in the kitchen trying to dream up exciting lunch box ideas for her three cheeky monkeys.

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