Flu Season Is Here – When Should You Worry?

It’s that time of year again – the temperature drops, we’re often stuck indoors, and we’re dreaming of warmer days.

It’s also the worst time of year for viruses that can strike without warning and cause serious stress for parents with sick children.

The flu is especially frightening when it hits our little ones, but it’s often hard to know when they need medical attention – and what kind.

The flu hits different areas of the nation at different times and with differing forms of severity, but January and February are the worst months overall, and every state is affected.

Several hospitals are reporting dramatic increases from this time last year as patients flock to the ER for treatment.  

We don’t blame them.  After all, the flu can be debilitating, and we can’t imagine feeling worse when we’re struck with it.

We’re especially likely to take our kids in to the ER when we suspect they have the flu.  It’s a frightening and helpless feeling to see them suffering and not know how to make them feel better.

As scary as it can be, emergency room physicians want us to know that, in most cases, a trip to the ER is not necessary.

But how do we know when they need emergency attention and when we just need to consult with their pediatrician?

Since we know our children best, we often know when they are just fighting a mild virus that will run its course and when they are really being hit hard by illness.

The first step when we see our kids suffering with symptoms we think are extreme is to contact their pediatrician.  

And since there are more options available to parents than ever before, there are many convenient ways to get advice on the next steps.  

All doctors’ offices offer emergency callbacks 24 hours a day if you feel you can’t wait for a scheduled appointment, and many are now offering “virtual visits” where you can speak face-to-face with your child’s doctor via Skype, FaceTime, or other apps.

This is a great place to start because your pediatrician can actually take a quick look at your child’s demeanor and appearance before recommending the next course of action.

If it is determined your child can wait to get into the office, the doctor will let you know how you can make your child comfortable until appointment time.

If not, he can let you know if you should visit an urgent care facility or whether symptoms warrant going into the emergency room right away.

In general, pediatricians recommend that a child can wait for an office visit if they are urinating normally – even with a fever present – eating and drinking in small amounts, and interacting with family, even if not at their normal level of energy.

They will likely get you a priority appointment if your child is lethargic, has had a fever for more than three days, will not eat – or especially drink – and is not urinating at least every few hours.

If your child exhibits symptoms that you know are life-threatening, such as having trouble breathing, they are not alert or responsive, or they have dry lips or sunken eyes, do not wait to go to the ER – or even call an ambulance.

These signs of distress mean your child is severely dehydrated or may be in early stages of symptoms that can lead to organ damage or death.

And if you have a newborn or young infant, there are additional warning signs that warrant a call to the pediatrician right away.  

If your baby is not nursing or taking a bottle, has significantly less wet diapers, or their skin seems to be changing color, call immediately.

And get them to the ER right away if they are having trouble breathing, just as you would with an older child.  

In children under two months, fever by itself can be indicative of several things, and does not usually accompany the flu.  

But many symptoms similar to those of the flu can be signs of other dangerous viruses like RSV, which are prevalent in the winter and often require hospitalization in infants.

It’s always better to be safe than sorry, but with these tips, you may have a better understanding of how urgent your child’s condition is.  

If they are not exhibiting the “emergency” symptoms above, it is likely ok to wait until morning – since our little ones always seem to feel the worst in the middle of the night.

In the end, you know your child best, and it is better to be safe than sorry.  

Remember, prevention is key – hand washing, staying away from others who are sick and keeping your child home when they are sick, and give everyone in the family a healthier immune system by drinking plenty of water and eating a healthy diet.

If your child does get the flu, the CDC states that they are likely contagious one day before the onset of symptoms, and up to a week after.  So even if they’re feeling better, it’s best to keep them away from others for the remainder of that week.

We wish your family health and wellness this winter!

When have you been prompted to take your little one to the emergency room with scary symptoms?  Leave us your comments.