Pediatric Cold and Flu

Both the flu and the common cold are contagious respiratory illnesses but are caused by different viruses.

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When a child gets a congested (stuffy) nose, we often jump to one of two conclusions – it’s a cold or it’s the flu. The truth is there is a difference between the two, and it is important to know which is which. Although the symptoms are similar, such as nasal congestion, there are other tell-tale signs of which illness your child has. Nasal congestion alone can make a child feel uncomfortable. This, plus the other symptoms can create an irritable and frustrated child. 

Flu symptoms vs cold symptoms

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Both the flu and the common cold are contagious respiratory illnesses but are caused by different viruses. Flu is caused by one of the influenza viruses, while the common cold is caused by a number of different viruses1.  For a cold it is better to let it run its course, but should your child not get better, seek medical attention. If it is the flu, it is best to visit your doctor to stop your child from getting worse.

Symptoms of the flu include:

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  • A high temperature
  • Body aches and pains
  • Body chills
  • Headache
  • Sore throat
  • Runny nose or stuffy nose
  • Cough
  • Low energy levels, and fatigue
  • Loss of appetite
  • Some children may experience belly pain, nausea, vomiting and diarrhoea2

Symptoms of a cold in children include:

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  • Moderate temperature (if any)
  • Tickly throat
  • Runny or stuffy nose
  • Sneezing
  • Energy levels are still high2

Dealing with nasal congestion

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The flu and the common cold share similar symptoms, one of which is nasal congestion. Nasal congestion is never pleasant – your head hurts, your sinuses hurt, your nose won’t stop running and you feel completely miserable. When your children are congested, they feel the same way, and depending on their age are unable to let you know or understand how they are feeling. They are uncomfortable and unable to breathe easily which can lead to frustration and in some cases acting out. When you feel relief from nasal congestion, your entire mood changes and you start to feel like your old self again. For children it is the same thing, but it is always difficult making the connection in the beginning.

What causes nasal congestion?

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Congestion occurs as a symptom of colds and flu as well as sinus infections3, and allergic reaction to environmental factors such as dust and pollution. Nasal congestion can last between 1 to 2 weeks, or it can last longer if an environmental issue is the cause. If it does persist, and if it occurs with a fever, especially in babies under three months old, a doctor needs to be consulted. Otherwise, home care is all that is recommended.

Symptoms of nasal congestion

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The symptoms associated with nasal congestion can include:

  • A stuffy or runny nose
  • Sinus pain
  • Mucus build-up
  • Swollen nasal tissue

All of these symptoms cause discomfort in children, and it is better to try and alleviate them as soon as possible

Consult your doctor if:

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  • The above symptoms persist, and the child continues to feel ill
  • A child younger than 3 months presents with a fever
  • A fever that lasts more than five days in a row
  • Chills or sweating
  • Difficulty breathing
  • Nausea or vomiting
  • Greenish or bloody nasal discharge
  • Unusual sleepiness
  • Severe headache
  • Persistent crying
  • Ear pain


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