Flu Symptoms: When To Bring Your Child Into The Emergency Center


We are in the midst of one of the most severe flu seasons in a decade. Texas Children’s alongside hospitals across the nation have seen a major jump in flu-related emergency center visits over the past several weeks. It’s important for parents to understand when they should or shouldn’t bring their child into an emergency center with flu-like symptoms. The flu can cause a variety of symptoms and effects, ranging from mild to severe. Most healthy people, including children, can recover from the flu without complications, and don't need to go to the emergency center or seek hospitalization. Symptoms of the flu can include:

  • Fever or chills
  • Headaches
  • Fatigue
  • Coughing
  • Sore throat
  • Runny or stuffy nose
  • Body aches
  • Diarrhea
  • Vomiting

A child with these regular flu-like symptoms can usually be cared for at home with fever-reducing medication, like Tylenol or Ibuprofen, clear fluids and bed rest. If diagnosed early enough, some children might benefit from Tamiflu, a medication that requires a prescription from your pediatrician. To ensure your child has fully recovered from the flu, he/she should stay home for at least 24 hours after the fever is gone. If your child's flu-like symptoms return and worsen, or if your child is at high risk for developing flu-related complications (he/she is younger than 2 years old or has a chronic condition like asthma, epilepsy, lung disease, heart disease, sickle cell disease, cancer, etc.), call your child’s pediatrician to seek evaluation. You should seek immediate medical care in an emergency center if your child exhibits any of these core warning signs:

  • Return of flu-like symptoms with worsened fever, cough
  • Fast or trouble breathing
  • Cyanosis, a bluish discoloration of the skin
  • Dehydration, a lack of fluid consumption (no tears with crying, dry lips and mouth, no urination in more than eight hours)
  • Severe lethargy
  • Irritability

In adults, core warning signs signaling a need for urgent medical attention include:

  • Return of flu-like symptoms with worsened fever, cough
  • Difficulty breathing, or shortness of breath
  • Pain or pressure in the chest or abdomen
  • Sudden dizziness
  • Confusion or altered mental state
  • Severe or persistent vomiting

Just remember: Although most flu-related illnesses can be treated at home, please seek immediate medical care if you're especially concerned about your child’s health, or if your child exhibits any of the core warning signs. The flu vaccine is the best way to protect yourself and your family from flu infection. It isn't too late to get your flu shot!

Post by:

Katherine Jennifer Leaming-Van Zandt, MD

Dr. Katherine Leaming-Van Zandt is an Assistant Professor of Pediatrics at BCM and, an attending physician in the emergency centers of Texas Children's Hospital.  She also serves as the Medical Director of the TCH West Campus Emergency Center.  

Dr. Leaming-Van Zandt’s academic interests...

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