Skip to main content

Step one: Leave the pajamas on

Flu season is upon us, and if your child begins to show symptoms you might have a lot of questions. Do they need to see a doctor? Should you rush to the hospital? What are the treatment options, and how long will it last? 

“The flu is an illness that attacks the respiratory tract caused by the influenza A or B viruses,” explains Dr. Maria Alexies Osorio Samonte, pediatrician at Geisinger Mountain Top. “Its symptoms are similar to a cold but are much more severe and have more potential side effects.”

With this in mind, it’s normal to feel nervous when the flu hits close to home, but most cases of the seasonal virus can be treated without prescription medications. 

“However, that’s not to say that serious or life-threatening cases don’t happen,” says Dr. Samonte, “which is why getting the flu shot is always best.”

Here’s what to do if you suspect the flu.


Diagnosing the flu

If your child is feeling fatigued or exhausted with persistent body aches in addition to cold-like symptoms such as coughing, headaches and a high fever, they are likely dealing with more than just a seasonal bug.

“If they’re sneezing and congested, it could just be a cold,” says Dr. Samonte, “but a quick call or message to your pediatrician’s office can confirm your suspicions.” Your doctor will usually have some advice for at-home treatments and over-the-counter medications to try, but they may also request that you come into the office for a full evaluation.

While they are experiencing symptoms, it’s extremely important to keep your child home from school and other activities to avoid spreading the illness and let the body rest, giving the immune system a chance to do its work. 


How to treat the flu at home

Due to the fatigue, aches and chest discomfort, your child should stay in bed and get plenty of rest while fighting the flu. 

“Whenever someone is sick they should drink plenty of fluids to stay hydrated,” says Dr. Samonte. “But in the case of the flu, there is also a lot of mucus in the respiratory system. Those fluids will help to break it down before it has a chance to cause an infection.”

Over-the-counter medications like acetaminophen or ibuprofen will help calm the aches and pains that come with a fever, and a humidifier or vaporizer will help with dry air that might cause additional congestion or coughing. 


When to call your doctor

If you catch the flu early, you may want to speak to your child’s pediatrician about antiviral medications to shorten the illness. Options like oseltamivir, peramivir or zanamivir can shorten your flu by up to five days if taken within the first 48 hours of exposure. 

Otherwise, most cases of the flu will pass in one to two weeks. If your child continues to struggle with symptoms after two weeks, you should contact their doctor. 

Additional symptoms like earache, a temperature over 102 degrees, shortness of breath, vomiting, wheezing or convulsions are also signs of a more severe illness and you should look to your doctor for guidance. 

“A pediatrician will be able to monitor your child and administer advanced treatment options, preventing rare but potentially serious side effects like pneumonia or Reye’s syndrome, which attacks the brain and liver,” says Dr. Samonte. 

The best way to prevent your little one from getting the flu is by getting a flu shot. It’s not too late – even if they’ve already had the flu. Visit your pediatrician or find one near you.

Maria Alexies Osorio Samonte, MD, is a pediatrician at Geisinger Mountain Top in Mountain Top, PA. To make an appointment with Dr. Samonte or another Geisinger pediatrician, call 800-275-6401 or visit Geisinger.org.
Young boy laying on couch fighting the flu virus

Find a caring pediatrician for your child