Flu season is here, and in full effect. It's currently spreading through my son's school like crazy, and even his teacher was out with it last week. Try as we might — with flu shots and keeping those little hands thoroughly washed — sometimes this nasty illness simply cannot be escaped. So how do you care for a child with the flu?
Of course, if a parent suspects the flu, the very first thing to do is take the child to the doctor. But once you're back at home, how can you both make the child comfortable and help to speed their recovery? I reached out to two pediatricians for some of their best at-home care tips.
Dr. Sara DuMond is the founder and chief medical officer of Pediatric Housecalls, as well as the medical expert for Dr. Brown’s. She says that once a doctor confirms a child has the flu, one of the most important things parents can do is manage the child’s fever.
"Not only will bringing the child’s temperature down make them feel better, but it’ll also make them more likely to feel well enough to drink and stay hydrated," says DuMond. "Start with weight-based dosing of over-the-counter fever medicines. Never give children aspirin, to avoid a rare but potentially fatal condition called Reye’s syndrome. Stick to Ibuprofen and Acetaminophen."
In addition to meds, DuMond suggests applying cool (not cold) cloths to the child's forehead and the back of their neck. However, ice baths are a no: "They can actually drive children’s temperature up higher, by causing shivering."
Hydration is obviously very important, and DuMond says kids will feel better if they sip on small amounts of fluids throughout the day. "There is some evidence that complimentary therapies, like Elderberry syrup and bone broth can give a boost to the immune system while kids are fighting off the flu. But parents should always check with their child’s pediatrician first before giving any supplement or over the counter medicine."
Dr. Jennifer Trachtenberg is a pediatrician and parenting expert, and serves as a SpokesDoctor for the American Academy of Pediatrics. She tells Romper that once you have your flu diagnosis, the illness can last for up to a week, sometimes even longer. "In addition, the child may start to feel much better after a few days, but then worse again." Like DuMond, she encourages hydration, lots of sleep, and suggests kids avoid strenuous exercise.
She also emphasizes the importance of keeping the child away from others who could potentially catch the flu from your kid. "It's important to keep the child home from school," says Trachtenberg, "as the flu is easily spread by a cough or sneeze, and lives on hard surfaces for up to 48 hrs."
As for how to keep that cooped up kid from going stir crazy? Well, initially, they will likely feel too lousy to be stir crazy. But if they're on the upswing, and feeling a little bored and restless, Trachtenberg says it's OK to be more chill with screens. "Being sick is a time to be a bit more lenient with electronics, watching movies, and playing video games. But I also recommend reading, puzzles, word searches, sticker books, and even drawing to help pass the time." (On that note — might I recommend two excellent drawing books for kids? Both of these offer really fun prompts and are incredibly cute and creative.)
Here's wishing a speedy recovery to all the kiddos out there battling the flu this season. Feel better, everyone. And go bananas with the Disney Plus — now's your chance.
Dr. Sara DuMond, founder and chief medical officer of Pediatric Housecalls, medical expert for Dr. Brown’s.
Dr. Jennifer Trachtenberg, pediatrician, parenting expert, and SpokesDoctor for the American Academy of Pediatrics.