What Parents Need to Know to Spot the Difference Between a Cold and a Flu

Taking care of a sick kiddo is one of the hardest things to deal with as a parent. Considering how widespread and dangerous flu seasons have become, it makes it all the more challenging. Knowing how to help and how to react properly is a huge point of concern when combating childhood sickness.

The flu is not the only possible illness your kid could catch this Fall and Winter, as the cold is also going around. While the two sicknesses might appear to be similar, they couldn't be more different in their severity or their treatments. Knowing what to look for is important in getting the help your little ones need so they can recover and get back to playing. POPSUGAR spoke with Dr. Ian Tong, chief medical officer at Doctor on Demand, to help parents determine what symptoms are present with the cold and flu and what you should do about it.

The Symptoms

It's no wonder that people have a hard time distinguishing between the cold and the flu since they have so many overlapping traits. "Cold and flu symptoms can seem similar, and do overlap. A cold can often be confused with allergies because you may not experience a fever (or have a low grade fever)," warns Dr. Tong. A sore throat, coughing, and sneezing can be present in both, but Dr. Tong confirms there are some differences to look out for.

The Main Difference

Dr. Tong confirms that one of the easiest ways to differentiate between the cold and the flu is the speed in which symptoms worsen. "You may start with a dry cough and then your symptoms may become progressively severe," begins Dr. Tong. A flu might show as a high fever of up to 103 or 104 degrees, body aches and pains, as well as a headache, congestion, and fatigue.

How to Treat Them

"The treatment window for the flu is usually within the first 48 hours of the onset of symptoms, and the only proven treatment requires the help of a doctor's prescription — so it's important to act fast," Dr. Tong advises. "Parents should contact a physician to help them determine if their child has the flu. They can address both flu and colds with symptomatic relief including nasal steroid inhalers for congestion, acetaminophen for head or body aches, and plenty of TLC. However, the most effective weapon doctors have against the flu is oseltamivir (or Tamiflu), which requires a prescription."

A cold, however, does not require the assistance of a doctor and most symptoms can be managed at home. This is how Dr. Tong suggests parents combat a cold:

  • Get over-the-counter medicine: Early symptoms such as fever, headache, body aches, and sinus pain can be treated with pain relievers, like ibuprofen or acetaminophen. Read the label carefully and follow dosage exactly.
  • Avoid cold and damp environments: Bacteria and viruses thrive at cooler temperatures, so if your kid is fighting a bug, it's best to stay warm and dry.
  • Get enough sleep: Try to get your kiddos to sleep as much as possible to give their bodies a chance to recover.
  • Deliver plenty of fluids: Staying hydrated with water, decaffeinated tea, sport drinks, and sugar-free drinks are best to help fight dehydration associated with fever.
  • Choose a warm bath or cool shower: If your children are experiencing a chill or a fever, giving them a warm bath or cool shower could offer some comfort. Adding shower or bath bombs containing eucalyptus, menthol, or other essential oils could make the experience more pleasant.