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Is It a Cold or the Flu?

Your child has a sore throat, cough, and high fever — could it be the flu? Or just a common cold?

The flu usually causes symptoms that make people feel worse than if they have a cold. But it's not always easy to tell the difference between the two.

Colds vs. Flu: Symptoms Guide

Answer these questions to see if your child is fighting the flu or a cold:

Flu vs. Colds: A Guide to Symptoms

QuestionsFluCold
Was the start of the illness … sudden? slow?
Does your child have a … high fever? no (or mild) fever?
Is your child's exhaustion level … severe? mild?
Is your child's head … achy? headache-free?
Is your child's appetite … decreased? normal?
Are your child's muscles … achy? fine?
Does your child have … chills? no chills?

If most of your answers are in the first category, chances are that your child has the flu. If your answers were usually in the second category, it's most likely a cold.

When Should I Call the Doctor?

Even if your child's illness looks like a cold, remember that flu symptoms can vary from child to child and even change over time. So if it could be the flu, call your doctor. Even doctors often need a test to tell them for sure if a person has the flu or a cold because the symptoms can be so similar! Some bacterial diseases, like strep throat or pneumonia, also can look like the flu or a cold.

It's important to get medical care right away if your child:

How Is the Flu Treated?

The flu can cause complications even in healthy kids. But some are at more of a risk, such as kids younger than 5 and those with asthma. They may become sicker with the flu and need to be hospitalized. For severely ill kids or those with other special circumstances, doctors may prescribe an antiviral medicine that can ease flu symptoms, but only if it's given within 48 hours of the start of the illness.

Most of the time, you can care for your child at home by offering plenty of liquids, rest, and extra comfort.

Talk to your doctor about making sure that everyone in your family gets a flu vaccine each year to help protect them from the flu.

Date reviewed: September 2018