How to tell if your child has a cold or the flu

How to tell if your child has a cold or the flu

Baby’s first winter can be tough, so here’s a new mum’s guide to dealing with sniffles.

How to tell if your child has a cold or the flu

Cold and flu viruses spread when an infected person coughs or sneezes into the air, spreading the virus to people who then inhale it. They can also spread by touching someone or something contaminated with the virus.

The best way to avoid the flu is to teach your kids to cover up when sneezing and coughing and practice good hygienic habits such as washing hands regularly.

But how can you tell the difference between these two common illnesses?

A cold is generally milder than a flu and its symptoms usually last a few days. A flu on the other hand, can last for a few days to weeks, and can even result in health complications.

Read on to learn more about the differences.

What are the causes?


More than 200 different viruses can cause a cold in children, but it is most commonly caused by the rhinovirus. The cold virus can be spread when an infected person coughs or sneezes into the air.

Other nearby people can become infected when they inhale tiny droplets containing the virus. The virus can also be passed on by contact with respiratory secretions, either from direct contact with a person with a cold or from a surface they have touched. The virus is spread if you transfer it from your hands by touching your own eyes, mouth or nose.

The incubation period (the time between infection with the virus to symptoms of illness) is 1–3 days, with an average of 48 hours.


The flu is only caused by influenza virus, although there are different types. Similar to the cold virus, the flu virus is usually transmitted through inhaling viral particles in the air. Transmission from direct contact or contaminated surfaces can also occur.  

The incubation period is 1 – 4 days, with an average of 2 days.

What are the signs?


At the onset of a cold, your child may develop a sore or scratchy throat, runny nose or sneezing. As these signs can’t all be easily observed, take note when your child expresses such discomforts. As the cold develops, your child may start experiencing symptoms like thick nasal discharge, cough, red eyes, loss of appetite or vomiting, tiredness or lethargy and fever. The common cold is usually not dangerous and goes away in 4 –10 days.


Meanwhile, the symptoms of flu are typically mild in children and usually improve in 2 – 5 days, although it is important in children under four to watch for complications such as breathing difficulty. Residual tiredness and cough may last longer, for up to a week or more.

How can I help?

There are no specific treatments for the cold or flu virus. However, you can give your child plenty of fluids to drink, even if not eating, and encourage them to rest. Saline drops may help a blocked nose and warm drinks may soothe a sore throat. If your child has pain or discomfort with a fever, you can give paracetamol such as Children’s Panadol as directed, for up to 48 hours.

How can I reduce the spread of infection?

Simple precautions can be very effective in reducing the spread of cold and flu. First, wash with warm soapy water or sanitise hands regularly to prevent common infections. Second, cover coughs and sneezes to avoid spreading viruses. Third, keep your child home when they’re unwell.

Why choose Panadol?

It’s only natural that as parents, we wish to feel confident and assure when it comes to making our kids feel better. Children’s Panadol is recommended for the relief of pain and fever in children and is trusted by mums and dads. Children’s Panadol has been trusted for over 60 years for the temporary relief of pain and fever.

Because it’s tough on fever and gentle on little tummies, Children’s Panadol is a suitable choice for kids. Children’s Panadol is available in a variety of formulations including baby drops, elixirs, suspensions, suppositories, chewable tablets and soluble tablets. A range of tailored products covers children aged from one month up to twelve years. It is important to match your child’s weight to the corresponding dose on the label.

When should I see a doctor?

You should see your doctor if your child won’t drink fluids, has frequent vomiting, has a severe headache, has trouble breathing, develops a rash, has not improved within 48 hours or if you are worried for any other reason.

Brought to you byChildren’s Panadol, helping new mums through the first five years of parenthood. Click here to find out more.

Children’s Panadol contains paracetamol. ALWAYS READ THE LABEL. Use only as directed. For the temporary relief of pain and fever. Incorrect use could be harmful. Consult your healthcare professional if symptoms persist.