Jan 7, 2021, 10:37:36 AM CST Jan 25, 2024, 12:32:56 PM CST

5 must-have items for parents during cold and flu season

What should I have for cold and flu season?

Little girl in bed sick Little girl in bed sick

The onset of winter often brings coughs and sniffles – especially in children. Kids can get six to eight colds per year, and you need to be able to provide quick relief. Michael Lee, M.D., a pediatrician with Children's Health℠ and Professor at UT Southwestern, offers tips for what to have on hand – and what to avoid – to help your kids feel better.

What are must-have items for parents during cold and flu season?

Here are the cold and flu essentials every caregiver needs:

1. A working thermometer

If your child feels warm, or is sweating, shivering or acting irritable, it's time to check their temperature. There are different types of thermometers for children, and it's important to have one that you're comfortable with and is also appropriate for your child's age. Dr. Lee recommends infrared thermometers for the forehead or digital thermometers that go in your child's mouth or rectum. Avoid using thermometers in the ears or under the armpit. Learn more tips for checking and treating fever in kids.

2. Saline spray and nasal bulb syringe or aspirator

A saline solution, such as a nose spray or mist, can help loosen thick mucus in your child's nose. If your child is too young to blow their nose well, you can use a suction bulb or a nasal aspirator to help clear their nasal passages. Suctioning is especially helpful before bed and after waking up. For babies, it's helpful to suction their nose before feedings.

Tip: Breathing in steam from a warm bath or shower can also help loosen mucus.

3. Fever-reducing medications

It can be helpful to have children's acetaminophen (Tylenol) or children's ibuprofen (Motrin) in your home in case your child gets a fever. These medications won't treat the root cause of your child's fever, but they can help provide quick relief.

Here are a few reminders about fever medications:

  • Check the expiration date on fever medications before using.
  • Check the label or call your pediatrician to check the correct dose for your child's age and weight.
  • For fever in babies under 3 months old, always call your pediatrician first.
  • Do not give ibuprofen to babies under 6 months old.
  • Do not give aspirin to children under the age of 18. It can have dangerous side effects in children.

4. Sore throat remedies

Some of the best ways to soothe a sore throat are found in the kitchen – not the medicine cabinet. Warm liquids, such as hot water with lemon, broth or caffeine-free tea for older children, can help reduce soreness and loosen mucus. Honey can also calm a sore throat and reduce coughing if your child is over the age of 1. Icy treats like popsicles are another way to relieve a sore throat – and might be kid's favorite remedy.

5. Hand soap and cleaning products

Frequent hand hygiene is one of the best ways to prevent your child from catching something in the first place. Make sure you have antibacterial hand soap around your home, and stock up on hand sanitizer for on-the-go situations – such as in the car or clipped to your kids' school backpacks. It's also important to clean objects and surfaces you touch a lot with disinfectant wipes or sprays.

Other helpful remedies for cough and congestion in kids

These items can also ease your child's cold or flu symptoms, including congestion, sore throat and cough.

  • Cool-mist humidifier – Dry air can make a child's cough and congestion worse. Consider placing a cool-mist humidifier in your child's room, near where they sleep.
  • Topical vapor rub – Putting this on your child's chest may help reduce nighttime cough. Dr. Lee advises using vapor rub only for children 2 years and older.
  • Afrin nasal spray – Using this at night can help with severe congestion. But it's only recommended to use for 2-3 days in children 6 years and up.

Which cold and flu products should you avoid with kids?

If your child is under 6, it's important to avoid giving them over-the-counter cough and cold medicines.

"Cold medicines attempt to treat the symptoms of a cold," says Dr. Lee. "Unfortunately, these medications are not effective in young children and should not be given to children under the age of 6 years, as they could also cause side effects."

Potential side effects of over-the-counter cold and cough medicines in children include increased heart rate, excessive drowsiness, convulsions and nausea.

Because it's not recommended to give over-the-counter cold and cough medicines to children under 6, it can be tempting to try a natural or holistic cold and flu remedy, such as elderberry supplements. But Dr. Lee warns that these products are not FDA-regulated, and their safety and effectiveness are not always clear. He recommends that parents of younger children stick with tried-and-true home remedies.

What other steps can my family take to stay healthy during cold and flu season?

Remembering to wash your hands and disinfect your home can really help reduce the chances of spreading a cold or the flu from one family member to the next. Getting enough sleep and eating a healthy diet can also help prevent you from getting sick.

Most importantly, make sure every member of your family over 6 months of age gets their annual flu shot to reduce the chances of catching the flu. Call your child's pediatrician to schedule their flu shot, or find a flu vaccine location.

Learn more

Children's Health Primary Care offers comprehensive health care for children from birth through young adulthood. Our pediatricians combine quality care with evidence-based practice to meet your child's medical needs. Learn more and find a pediatrician.

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