Flu or influenza is an infectious disease caused by the influenza virus. It affects the respiratory tract (which involves the throat, nose, and lungs) causing symptoms, such as cough, running nose, fever, and difficulty in breathing. Flu often resolves on its own with home management. If your baby develops a serious illness characterized by high fever, refusal to take feeds, excessive lethargy, or bluish skin, you must seek immediate medical help. Since babies are more vulnerable to develop serious illness, it is advisable to consult a doctor before trying home remedies.
The home remedy for flu will depend on the temperature of the baby and on what other signs and symptoms are present with the flu. Whatever be the case, some self-care measures can make the baby comfortable even after the baby has been examined by a doctor. These include:
- Hydrate the baby adequately: Regardless of age, when suffering from a cold and cough, keep well hydrated by drinking plenty of fluids. This also helps clear excess mucus in the sinuses.
- Give the baby chicken soup: Chicken soups and warm vegetable broths help in soothing the throat and relieving congestion in the chest. Warm milk with a pinch of turmeric works as well.
- Use nasal saline drops: Saline nasal drops or sprays can help loosen secretions and lubricate the nasal and sinus passages. These drops can be instilled twice a day. Steam inhalation does the same thing.
- Help prevent pooling of cough: Elevating the head of the bed can make the baby breathe easier by preventing the pooling of cough in the nose. Place a firm pillow under the mattress (and not in your baby's crib).
- Give honey: For children older than 1 year with the viral flu, we recommend 1.5 teaspoons of honey in some warm water before bedtime as a cough remedy. Honey soothes the throat and helps the child sleep better.
- Make use of pain-relievers (only if necessary): Give Acetaminophen or Ibuprofen to reduce the fever and pain of the baby (but don’t give Ibuprofen to babies younger than 6 months old, and never give Aspirin to babies or toddlers), according to your doctor's recommendation and the label.
- Use cool-mist humidifiers: Prevent the nose of the baby from drying out by keeping the home environment humid with the use of cool-mist humidifiers kept near the baby’s bed.
- Dress the baby in layers: Keep the baby cool by dressing them in layers or breathable clothes.
What about antibiotics?
Antibiotics do not work in treating flu, they work only if the fever is due to a bacterial infection. The flu in general is self-limiting and usually takes its natural course. The use of antibiotics is also recommended to be restricted in babies due to the risk of antibiotic-resistance.
When should you seek medical help?
Any child under 5 years of age, especially those younger than 2 years, are considered to be “high-risk” because they are more likely to experience complications from the flu, including pneumonia than healthy adults. If your baby is 3-month-old, do not treat them at home. Seek the supervision of a doctor.
The suggested measures can help your baby stay comfortable till the fever tides over. However, you should not delay seeking medical help when your baby shows the following signs and symptoms:
- The fever goes and keeps coming back
- Persistent fever for more than 3 days
- Not drinking enough liquids
- Symptoms of dehydration like dry skin, dry tongue, depressed soft spot (sunken fontanelle), less or no urination in the past 24 hours
- Fever with rash
- Trouble breathing or rapid breathing
- Signs of cyanosis, such as bluish skin or lips
- Extreme sleeplessness (the baby is hard to wake up)
- Poor eye contact with you
Some of these symptoms of flu are the same as those of COVID-19 disease. If your baby is sick with any of the flu-like symptoms, your pediatrician will probably ask that they get tested for COVID-19 to rule it out.
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Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Caring for Your Child’s Cold or Flu. https://www.cdc.gov/flu/highrisk/infantcare.htm