It’s normal for a child to have several colds a year because they’re still building immunity to germs and viruses they have not had yet. Fortunately, as their immune system gets stronger, they’ll get fewer colds.

How can you tell the difference between cold and flu?

The symptoms of a cold and the flu can be similar, but they’re different illnesses and the flu tends to be more severe. Flu develops quickly but you can keep an eye out for these signs and how they develop:

The symptoms of flu can include:

The symptoms of the common cold can include:

  • Sudden high temperature (38˚C or higher)
  • Headache
  • Aching body
  • Dry cough
  • Sore throat
  • Refusing to eat or not being hungry
  • Feeling weak or tired, being less active
  • Difficulty sleeping
  • Runny poo (diarrhoea) or painful tummy
  • Feeling or being sick (nausea)
  • Earache
  • A blocked or runny nose
  • A sore throat
  • Headaches
  • Coughing, that worsens at night
  • High temperature (38˚C or higher)
  • Feeling tired
  • Sleeping more than usual
  • Loss of appetite
  • Earache

The main differences between a cold and flu in children are:

  • Develops quickly, within a few hours
  • Affects more than the nose and throat
  • Feeling exhausted and completely inactive, unable to carry on as normal
  • Develops gradually
  • Affects the nose and throat mainly
  • Feeling unwell but still active and playing and can carry on as normal

What to do If your child has a cold or flu

It’s inevitable that your child will come into contact with other children who have a cold or flu symptoms, so always try to encourage good hygiene habits, by asking them to wash their hands regularly.  Also, wash your own hands regularly with soap and warm water.

If your child is showing symptoms of either a cold or the flu, follow these tips to avoid spreading the infection:

  • Don’t share household items like towels or mugs
  • Wipe surfaces regularly
  • Keep your little one home from school or any other activities until they’re better

Have tissues handy to trap germs when your little one coughs or sneezes and throw them in the bin as soon as you have used them.

Treatment of cold and flu in children

Most colds and flu in kids can be treated at home and will clear up on their own. There’s no specific treatment for a cold or flu but you can keep your child comfortable with these tips:

  • Keep them warm, but not overheated
  • Make sure that they get enough rest and sleep
  • Give them children’s medicine such as paracetamol or ibuprofen such as Nurofen for Children, for children over 3 months and weighing more than 5kg, to help lower a high temperature and relieve aches and pains.
  • Give them plenty of water to keep them hydrated
  • Use saline nose drops to help relieve a stuffy nose

Children can catch and spread the flu easily. The children's flu vaccine is offered to children to help protect them against flu. vaccinating them also helps to protect others who are vulnerable to flu, such as babies and older people. Speak to your doctor about who should be vaccinated.

When to seek medical help

See your doctor if your child has cold or flu symptoms and:

  • They have a medical condition
  • You are concerned for any reason
  • They are showing signs of severe illness, including poor feeding, dehydration and difficulty breathing.
  • A fever of 38˚C or above in babies under 3 months
  • Crying that cannot be soothed or refusing to drink liquids
  • A rash
  • Problems with breathing
  • Symptoms other than a cough, that lasts more than 10 days
  • Symptoms that worsen after 5 days
  • Have chest pains and are unable to swallow

Colds and flu symptoms usually clear up on their own within a week or two, but if you are concerned you should always contact your doctor.

All information presented on these web pages is not meant to diagnose or prescribe. In all health matters for further information or medical advice, please speak to your GP or a Pharmacist.