How to fight the flu at home

When your child gets the flu, it’s certainly no fun. And parents often worry about how to safely treat their child’s flu symptoms at home. It can be a bit overwhelming to figure out which medications are best, if he is staying hydrated enough and when his fever may be too high.

“When it comes to caring for a child at home who is fighting the flu, it’s not just about which medicines to take,” explained Stephanie M. Jernigan, MD, Pediatric Nephrologist and Co-Chief, Medicine at Children’s Healthcare of Atlanta. “Parents should also be aware of whether their child is drinking enough fluids and if his fever spikes to dangerous levels.”

Is my child hydrated enough?

Kids need to drink plenty of fluids when they are fighting the flu. Some experts say they may need as many as four to five cups of fluid each day, from drinks to foods, such as water, diluted apple juice, gelatin, soup or popsicles.

And if your child is refusing to eat or drink, you may have to get a little more creative. We suggest putting the fluid in a fun cup, letting him use a straw or maybe even letting him “drink” his juice in a bowl with a spoon.

It’s important to watch out for the signs of dehydration, too. Contact your pediatrician if your child: 

  • Doesn't play as much as usual.
  • Isn't urinating as much as usual.
  • Has dry mouth.
  • Cries without tears.
  • Is sleepy or listless.
  • Is fussy or cries more than usual.

What medicines are safe for fighting the flu?

Since certain amounts of or types of medicines can be fatal to children if not given properly, parents should always think twice before giving a child medication. Antibiotics will not work for the flu because it is a virus, not a bacterial infection. Tamiflu is a prescribed antiviral medicine that can help treat the flu, but it carries a risk of side effects in children. Your child will first be evaluated thoroughly for a risk of serious infection against the potential side effects of taking this medication before his pediatrician will prescribe it.

The do’s of giving your child over-the-counter medication:

  • Do give him children’s ibuprofen, such as Motrin, Advil or another equivalent store brand.
  • Do give him acetaminophen, such as Tylenol or another equivalent store brand.
  • Do read the product label to see the appropriate dose of medicine for your child’s weight and how frequently it should be given.
  • Do check with your pharmacist or pediatrician if you have questions about dosage or frequency.

The don’ts of giving your child over-the-counter medication:

  • Don’t give your child aspirin or aspirin-containing products if he may have the flu. These include all brands and types of the following:
  • Alka-Seltzer
  • Anacin
  • Bayer
  • BC Powder
  • Doan’s
  • Ecotrin
  • Excedrin
  • Goody’s
  • Kaopectate
  • Pamprin
  • Pepto-Bismol
  • St. Joseph’s
  • Vanquish
  • Don’t give your child cough or cold medicine when also giving him fever-reducing medicines, unless under the direction of his doctor. Cough and cold medicines do not treat the flu and some ingredients may cause serious side effects for children younger than 6 years old.

If at any point you have questions about dosages or combing certain types of medications, don’t hesitate to contact your child’s pediatrician or reach out to your pharmacist. They are the experts in treating children of all ages and sizes, and will know best about how to properly give them medicine to help fight off flu symptoms.

What if my child has a fever?

Most fevers are harmless, but parents still worry whether their child needs medicine to help lower their temperature.

  • Infants younger than 3 months old whose temperature reaches 100.4°F (38°C) or higher should be evaluated by a doctor, because fevers in infants can indicate a serious illness.
  • Kids between 3 months and 3 years old with a fever of 102.2°F (39°C) or higher also require a call to your pediatrician.

“Either ibuprofen or acetaminophen can be used to help reduce your child’s fever and ease body aches and pain,” said Dr. Jernigan. “However, these medications have age and weight guidelines and should not be combined without direction from a healthcare professional, as it can be very dangerous for your child.”
Acetaminophen can also be found in Tylenol, as well as cold and cough medicines like Dayquil and Mucinex, so make sure you are not giving your child too much acetaminophen by combing the two.

While treating your child’s flu symptoms at home may not be easy—and oftentimes a little overwhelming—we’re here to help. And remember, it’s never too late to get a flu shot, or to encourage family and friends to do the same.

This content is general information and is not specific medical advice. Always consult with a doctor or healthcare provider if you have any questions or concerns about the health of a child. In case of an urgent concern or emergency, call 911 or go to the nearest emergency department right away. Some physicians and affiliated healthcare professionals on Children’s Healthcare of Atlanta team are independent providers and are not our employees.