Cold and Flu

By Dr Evelyn Lewin

A ‘cold’ is a common respiratory illness caused by a virus. Children who have a cold may be mildly unwell, but usually feel well enough to be active and playing. Flu is also a respiratory illness caused by a virus (Influenza virus). Children with the flu are more unwell.


Symptoms of a cold include sneezing, coughing, sore throat or ears and feeling generally unwell. The child may also have a fever. Children may be more tired than normal, irritable and less interested in food. A cold generally lasts for a few days, to just over a week. Symptoms of the flu come on more suddenly. Symptoms include fever, runny nose, sore throat, body aches, headache, cough, decreased appetite, vomiting or diarrhoea. Sneezing is less likely.Most children with the flu are better within a week.


There is no treatment for a cold. Most children with the flu do not need any treatment either. Antibiotics are not needed for either condition. Rest is important while unwell. If your child is very unwell with the flu, or has an underlying medical disorder, your doctor may prescribe antiviral medication in some cases. The best way to prevent flu is through vaccination. Discuss this with your doctor. Do not worry if your child is not interested in food while unwell. Her appetite will return when she is better. She may prefer soft, easy to swallow foods such as custard while unwell. It is important your child keeps her fluids up while unwell. Offer small sips of fluid often. She may prefer electrolyte icy-poles (you can purchase these from the pharmacy). If you are worried about your child’s fluid intake, see your doctor. This is especially important for babies. Medications such as paracetamol can help ease discomfort. Do not give your child aspirin. To reduce spread of illness, keep your child away from others while unwell. Advise her to sneeze into a tissue and cover her mouth while coughing, and then wash her hands afterwards. If your child is not getting better, is more unwell than you would expect, or you are worried, see your doctor.

Reviewed by Dr Evelyn Lewin 28 March 2015 references
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This document has been developed and peer reviewed by a KIDS HEALTH Advisory Board Representative and is based on expert opinion and the available published literature at the time of review. Information contained in this document is not intended to replace medical advice and any questions regarding a medical diagnosis or treatment should be directed to a medical practitioner.

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