Treating the flu in kids

Flu treatment for kids focuses on the fever and discomfort, with rest and over-the-counter medications to ease their symptoms. Here’s what to do if medication is in short supply.

Flu treatment for kids 

During flu season, pediatrician offices may get very busy with sick kids. Many concerns can be handled with a phone call to your pediatrician or through Norton eCare for children over age 2.

If your child is feeling ill and you can’t quickly be seen by your pediatrician’s office, here are some helpful answers and suggestions based on questions our physicians and nurses are commonly asked.

Helping my child at home

Flu treatment for kids focuses on the fever and discomfort, with rest and over-the-counter medications to ease their symptoms.

Keep in mind that a fever is a normal response by the body to fight off viruses like influenza.

You can try the following techniques to help your child feel more comfortable:

  • Keep their room cool — ideally 68 to 72 degrees.
  • Make sure that they are dressed in light clothing.
  • Encourage those older than 6 months old to drink fluids such as water or an electrolyte solution (such as Pedialyte).
  • Be sure that they do not overexert themselves.
  • A lukewarm bath may help.
  • Any herbs, vitamins and other supplements should be discussed with a pediatrician before being given to a child.

Medicines to give at home

Over-the-counter pain relievers — such as acetaminophen (Tylenol) or ibuprofen (Advil, Children’s Motrin, others) — can reduce your child’s fever, headache and body aches or ease the pain of a sore throat.

Do not use aspirin to treat your child’s fever or discomfort. Aspirin has been linked with side effects such as an upset stomach, intestinal bleeding and Reye syndrome.

Acetaminophen (Tylenol) for children comes in liquid as well as pills that can be chewed. It also comes as a pill that is put in the rectum (suppository) if your child is vomiting and can’t keep down medicine taken by mouth.

Ibuprofen comes in liquid for infants and children and chewable tablets that may be given to older children. With ibuprofen, keep in mind that there are two different kinds of liquid medicines: one for infants and one for children (including toddlers and children up to age 11 years). Infant drops are stronger (more concentrated) than the medicine for children, so you don’t have to give them as much.

When giving acetaminophen and ibuprofen together, make sure you do not give acetaminophen more often than once every four hours, and ibuprofen more often than once every six hours.

Over-the-counter cough and cold medicines should not be given to children under 6 years old. Children over 6 years old can be given honey or cough drops, but honey should not be given to any child under the age of 12 months.

If you can’t find over-the-counter medications

If you can’t find the medication you are looking for, call your child’s pediatrician’s office to discuss alternative formulations, such as chewable or crushable tablets. If you only have adult medications at home, a child can use adult medication if the dose is appropriate to the child’s age/weight. For example, if a child needs 200 milligrams (mg) of ibuprofen and typically takes 2 teaspoons of liquid ibuprofen that is 100 mg per 5 milliliters (100 mg/5 ml), the child could take a 200 mg ibuprofen tablet.

Also, using a humidifier or even steam from a shower can assist with nasal congestion (do not place child or baby in shower, just create steam in the bathroom). Some advocates recommend using warm therapy such as a lukewarm bath to help with body aches.

Do not use expired medication to treat your child, per the Food and Drug Administration.

When it’s time to go to the doctor or the emergency room

It’s time to call your pediatrician or go to an emergency department if:

  • Temperature is 100.4 or higher for children under 3 months old.
  • Temperature is 104 and not responding to Tylenol and/or Motrin.
  • Child recently has been vaccinated and their temperature is higher than 102 for more than 24 hours.
  • Child is not acting appropriately for age (extreme lethargy, inconsolable, decreased intake and output — not eating, drinking or urinating normal amounts).
  • Child vomits multiple times over 24 hours and is unable to hold down small amount of liquids.
  • Child has immune system complications or chronic heart issues and has a fever.
  • The child is poorly responsive or has difficulty waking up.

Content reviewed and approved by Becky S. Carothers, M.D., medical director, Norton Children’s Medical Group, Affiliated with the UofL School of Medicine.