Doctors' offices are teeming with patients suffering from one of the worst outbreaks of cold and flu season in recent years. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has said that flu is at an elevated level across the nation. Though virus symptoms vary by age, children are especially vulnerable since they are unable to take over-the-counter medications to help alleviate symptoms.
"Cough and cold medications can have serious side effects if taken by young children, including rapid heart rate and convulsions. These medications should never be used by children under the age of 4 and only under a physician's supervision if under the age of 6," said Bridget Boyd, MD, pediatrician at Loyola University Health System and assistant professor of pediatrics at Loyola University Chicago Stritch School of Medicine.
Without medications, parents can feel helpless. But Dr. Boyd offers some ways parents can safely help relieve their child's symptoms:
•If a child is 3-12 months old, give warm, clear fluids such as water, apple juice and oral electrolyte solution, such as Pedialyte.
•If a child is 1 year old give them ½-1 teaspoon of honey. This is a natural cough suppressant and helps thin secretions.
•Children who are older than 6 can use cough drops.
•A warm mist humidifier or exposure to steam from a shower can provide relief to kids of all ages, as parents as well.
"The best way to protect yourself and your family from the flu is a flu shot. The vaccine provides protection from three different strains of influenza," said Boyd. "It is possible for you to become ill with the flu more than once a season, so just because you had the flu doesn't mean you can't get sick again."
In addition to the flu shot, correct hand washing is extremely important to stopping the spread of germs. Parents and kids should: