How to Treat Flu in Toddlers

Three Methods:Using Natural RemediesUsing MedicationsPreventing the Flu

Children are particularly susceptible to the flu because their immune systems are still developing. Most cases of the flu can be treated at home with rest and by making the child as comfortable as possible while his or her body fights it off. However, if home care is not helping, then it is important to take the child to the doctor to make sure there isn’t anything more serious occurring.

Method 1
Using Natural Remedies

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    Keep your child hydrated. Children may forget to drink enough fluids when they are not feeling well. In addition, you child will lose water faster than usual if her body is producing mucus or if she is running a fever. Offer her plenty of liquids frequently and encourage her to drink even if she isn’t thirsty. [1][2]
    • Good drinks include water, juice, clear broth, or warm lemon water. The juice, broth, and lemon water will also help replenish her electrolytes.
    • Monitor your child for signs of dehydration including decreased urination, no tears when crying, sleepiness, dizziness, constipation, headaches, irritability, dry mouth, skin and mucous membranes, passing dark or cloudy urine.
    • Getting enough fluid will also help control your child’s fever.
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    Let the child sleep longer. Fighting of the flu will sap your child’s energy, so extra sleep is very important. Let your child sleep for as long as he can. This may include naps during the day. The amount of sleep your child needs will vary according to age and individual needs. In general healthy children need:[3][4]
    • 11 – 18 hours as newborns
    • 9 – 12 hours from 4 to 11 months old
    • 11 – 14 hours from 1 to 2 years old
    • 11– 13 hours when they are 3 to 5 years old
    • 9 – 11 hours when they are 6 to 13 years old
    • 8 – 10 hours in their teens
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    Keep your child warm. If your child’s temperature rises, she may get the chills and even start shivering. This occurs when the body temperature rises in relation to the air temperature. If your child gets the chills, take her temperature to see if she is running a fever and keep her warm.
    • A normal body temperature is 98.6°F (37°C). Most pediatricians define a fever as a temperature of 100.4°F (38°C) or higher.
    • Tuck her into bed and put extra blankets on the bed. If your child is an infant, wrap her in a blanket and hold her. Your body heat will help keep her warm.
    • If her fever starts coming down she may suddenly feel very warm and remove the blankets. Let her regulate her temperature as needed. Remove extra blankets if your infant starts to feel very warm.
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    Help your child breathe with a humidifier. Use a cool-mist humidifier to keep the air moist in his room when he sleeps at night. This will make it easier for him to breathe, soothe coughing, and help him fall asleep quickly.[5]
    • A cool-mist humidifier is safer than a hot-water vaporizer for children. This way if he bumps into it in the night, there is no risk that he will get burned.
    • If you don’t have a humidifier, you can make one by putting a pot of water on the radiator in the child’s room. If the radiator is on, the water will steadily evaporate and moisten the air.
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    Make chicken soup. Chicken soup is excellent for helping the body fight an infection. The fluid will prevent dehydration and the salt and nutrients will replenish electrolytes that may have been lost during sweating.[6]
    • As your child starts to feel better you can add some vegetables, noodles, or chunks of chicken to the broth to make it heartier.
    • As your child starts to feel better, her appetite will return.
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    Comfort your child. Providing emotional support will help him to relax, sleep and fight the infection. He may be prone to crying or irritable when sick. Try to offer him ways to distract himself from the discomfort of being ill. You can:
    • Provide him with a favorite book or read to him until he falls asleep for a nap
    • Play music or a book on tape for him so he can listen while relaxing in bed
    • Allow him to watch television or a movie

Method 2
Using Medications

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    Reduce pain and fever with medications. Over-the-counter medications are effective at lowering a fever and providing relief for headaches, sore throat, and joint pain. Children and teenagers should never be given medications containing aspirin because it may cause Reye’s syndrome.[7]
    • Acetaminophen (Tylenol) or ibuprofen (Advil, Motrin IB) are safe alternatives to aspirin. Consult your child’s doctor to make sure the medication will be appropriate for him.
    • If you are unsure how to treat your child, contact your doctor. Always read and follow the manufacturer’s instructions. Do not give children more than the recommended dosages. Many over-the-counter medications should not be given to young children.
    • Over-the-counter medications may interact with other medications, including prescription drugs, herbal remedies, and supplements.
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    Consult your child’s doctor before giving a cough syrup. Cough syrups may suppress coughing but they don’t actually kill the infection. Because coughing removes foreign material from the lungs, suppressing the coughing can slow the healing process. The advantage is that suppressing the coughing may help your child sleep at night. If your child can’t sleep because of coughing, ask the doctor for advice.[8]
    • Cough syrups should not be given to children younger than four. For older children, following the manufacturer’s dosing instructions.
    • Be aware that some cough syrups have the same active ingredients as some other over-the-counter medications. Check the ingredients on the packaging to make sure you don’t give your child more than one medication with the same active ingredients. This can lead to an accidental overdose.
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    Ask your doctor about antiviral medications. If your child has the flu caused by the influenza virus, antiviral medications may be recommended in certain situations, such as children with asthma or other medical problems, and children under age two. Antiviral medications may reduce the severity and duration of symptoms, and also reduce the chance your child will pass the flu to others.
    • Influenza antiviral medications are most effective if they are started within two days after your child becomes sick. Treatment usually lasts for five days.[9]
    • Antivirals are only available through prescription and may come in liquid, pill, or inhaler form.[10] Your doctor may prescribe Oseltamivir (Tamiflu®) or Zanamivir (Relenza®, Diskhaler®).[11]
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    Relieve a stuffy nose with saline drops. You can use a dropper to gently squeeze a few drops into each nostril. The salt will help thin out the mucus and make breathing easier. If the only ingredients are salt and water, then it is safe for children. Check the ingredients on the packaging to make sure there are no preservatives added.[12][13]
    • Some preservatives, such as benzalkonium chloride may damage the nasal tissues.
    • You can also make your own nasal spray by adding salt to water that has been boiled, then cooled to a warm temperature.
    • Do not give nasal decongestant sprays or drops to children. They can cause inflammation in the nasal tissues and aggravate your child’s symptoms.
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    Bring your child to the doctor if she is very ill. Children’s immune systems are not as developed as those of adults, which means they are vulnerable to complications. Your child should be seen by a doctor if she has:[14]
    • A fever for over 24 hours and is younger than two
    • A fever for over three days and is over two
    • A fever of 100°F (37.8°C) or higher and is three months old or younger.
    • A fever of 104°F (40°C)
    • Periods of crying for a long time. This is particularly important for children who are too young to tell you what hurts.
    • Problems breathing
    • A cough that doesn’t go away after one week or is very frequent or getting worse
    • Dehydration
    • Vomiting more than one or two times
    • A stiff neck
    • Abdominal pain
    • Severe headaches
    • Earaches
    • Extreme sleepiness

Method 3
Preventing the Flu

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    Get your child a flu shot if she is over six months old. Vaccinating your child against the flu each year is the absolute best way to protect your child.[15] The vaccine generally protects against three to four common strains of flu virus. Because the virus is ever-changing, your child must get a flu shot every season — a flu shot last season won't protect her this season.
    • You and the other members of your family should also get flu shots.
    • Children between six months and eight years old may need two doses within 28 days of each other if it is the first time they have received the flu shot.[16] Ask your doctor to find out if your child needs two doses.
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    Teach your child to wash his hands. This will help him to reduce the number of times he is sick with the flu and teach him avoid passing it to others when he does get sick. Teach him to wash his hands before eating, after going to the bathroom, and after blowing his nose, coughing, or sneezing. Direct him to use these steps when washing his hands:[17]
    • Run his hands under the water.
    • Lather his hands with soap and rub them together for at least 20 seconds. Remind him to clean between his fingers and under his fingernails.
    • Rinse the soap and dirt off under running water.
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    Have your child use a hand sanitizer when soap and water are unavailable. Hand sanitizers should be at least 60% alcohol to be effective. They can be used if you are in an area where soap and clean water are unavailable or when traveling.[18]
    • Put a dollop in the palm of her hand. Teach her to rub her hands together until the sanitizer is spread all over her hands. She should keep rubbing until it dries.
    • Teach her to avoid touching her nose, eyes or mouth if her hands are not clean. The nose, eyes, and mouth are entry points for flu viruses to enter the body.
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    Instruct your child to cover when coughing or sneezing. This is important for your child to learn so that he doesn’t spread the flu when he has it. He should:[19]
    • Sneeze or cough into a tissue and then throw the tissue in the garbage.
    • Sneeze or cough into his elbow, and not on his hands. This will reduce the likelihood that he will spread the flu to others via his hands.
    • Wash his hands if he sneezes or coughs on them.
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    Keep your child home when she exhibits signs of illness. If your child has a fever or signs of the flu, keep her out of daycare or school to prevent spreading the virus to other children. Your child may be contagious from one day before getting sick to up to five or seven days after, or even longer if she still exhibits symptoms.[20] Keeping your child home when she is sick can help keep the virus from spreading.
    • You should also avoid sharing cups and eating utensils when children are ill to prevent spreading the flu.


  • Consult a doctor before giving any medications, supplements or herbal remedies to a child.
  • Always read and follow the manufacturer’s instructions.
  • Even over-the-counter medications can interact. Don’t take more than one at a time. Also, taking multiple medications with the same active ingredient at the same time can lead to an overdose.

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Categories: Toddler Health