How to tell if your kiddo has caught a cold or the flu -- and what you can do to help her feel better.
When your infant starts sneezing, coughing, refusing food, or acting seriously fussy, take her temperature (preferably rectally -- sorry!). If she's under 3 months and has a fever of 100.4?F or higher, see a doctor ASAP to rule out a bacterial infection or other serious issue, says Jennifer Shu, M.D. Call your pediatrician if your 3- to 6-month-old has a temp of 101?F, or if she's over 6 months and has a fever of 102?F. Whatever her age, always check in with a doc if she has trouble breathing or is extremely irritable, sleepy, or lethargic.
Cold and flu symptoms are often similar. With a cold, she may sneeze, have a runny or stuffy nose, a dry cough, or a slight fever. Signs of the flu tend to be more severe and can include a moderate to high fever, headache, chills, sore throat, cough, runny nose, muscle aches, and vomiting. Suspect she has the flu? Take her to the doctor, who may give her a rapid flu test, and, if she's very sick or at risk for complications, prescribe an antiviral medicine like Tamiflu to lessen the illness's length or severity.
To help your tot feel better, you can use an over-the-counter fever reducer such as infant acetaminophen or -- provided she's older than 6 months and isn't vomiting -- infant ibuprofen. You probably took cold and cough meds as a kid, but they aren't effective for young children and could have dangerous side effects, so don't use them.
Clear a stuffy nose with saline drops and a nasal suction bulb, advises Robert Bonner, M.D. A cool-mist humidifier can loosen mucus and ease her cough too. Or run a hot shower and sit in the steamy bathroom with your tiny patient. Another trick that can relieve chest congestion: Lay her facedown on your lap, and gently tap her back with the cupped palm of your hand.