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Is it a Cold or the Flu?
Only Your Doctor Knows for Sure

Research by the Content Manager
You've seen it before. Your daughter's nose is running. She's having a harder time breathing. She has a fever and she looks miserable. Is it a cold, or the flu? Sometimes it's hard to tell. Colds and the flu have similar symptoms, but the flu tends to be more severe. Both illnesses are caused by viruses and generally run their course in a week to 10 days. There's no quick cure, but in most cases, non-prescription cold and flu remedies can help ease the symptoms.

Colds
Before age 6, children tend to get six to eight colds a year.  Colds can strike at any time of the year, but are more likely to be spread between September and May. About a quarter of colds last up to two weeks, and a cough associated with a cold can sometimes linger for another week after the other symptoms have disappeared.  Typical cold symptoms include a runny nose, difficulty breathing through the nose, sneezing, a scratchy throat and a cough. Colds can come with or without a fever.

Flu
The flu is caused by influenza viruses that spread during the winter months, and a mild case of the flu can seem a lot like a cold. The most distinguishing characteristic of the flu is the sudden onset of symptoms, including headache, fever, chills, muscle aches, cough and sore throat. Compared to adults, kids tend to have higher fevers when they catch the flu 103 to 105 degrees Fahrenheit. In preschoolers and infants, it is often hard to tell whether your child has the flu or a cold. Fortunately, the treatments for both illnesses are similar. For starters, call your doctor if your infant has a fever or if the symptoms persist for more than a few days. Otherwise, the goal in dealing with a cold or the flu is to make your child as comfortable as possible during the illness.

The American Lung Association recommends:
- A vaporizer or humidifier to prevent mucous in your child's nose from drying and hardening.
- Saline nasal drops or gentle suction with a bulb syringe to relieve nasal congestion in infants.
- Nasal decongestants and antihistamines to relieve nasal problems (but check with your doctor first).
- Acetaminophen, or pediatric ibuprofen, to relieve fever and pain. Don't use aspirin. It's been implicated in a serious complication called Reye's syndrome (when given to children who have the flu).
- Increasing fluids, such as water and juices. While chicken soup has no special curative powers, it's a good source of hot fluid to help soothe a cough.
- For the flu, your doctor might also prescribe anti-viral medications. You also might want to discuss the possibility of having your child receive the influenza vaccine each fall.
Finally, take heart. After age 6, kids tend to get fewer colds. By the time she's a teenager, your daughter will probably average three to four colds a year, the same as adults.

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