The Big Three: Cold, Flu, & Strep Throat – A Guide to Prevention and Treatment

Young child sneezing into a tissue while a parent watches on

As fall and winter set in, there is more than just colder weather and hot chocolate in the forecast; for many, there is a high chance of flu and a probability of colds with a percentage of strep throat. For the first few years of life, children’s little bodies and immune systems are being exposed to all kinds of fun invaders that can make winter seem like a battlefield. Given the ongoing pandemic, parents are now hyper-aware of their child’s exposure to these invisible enemies. 


But it’s not all doom and gloom! It’s important to note that as children grow and get exposed, their immune system gets stronger and develops antibodies that allow them to be resilient against these viruses in the future. With proper vaccinations and regular healthcare visits, your child will grow strong against these common viruses. 


These three illnesses are common amongst adults and children during winter, fall, and spring. Seeing your child suffer from any of these three can be stressful, particularly if you are a new parent or dealing with a little one. This has been a year with a lot of talk of infection and preventative measures when it comes to Covid-19 and many of the same preventive measures transfer over to other common illnesses we’ve dealt with for a long time. Developing good hygiene, washing hands frequently, disinfecting toys or play stations, as well as maintaining a healthy diet and exercise are all excellent ways to help prevent the transmission of some of these viruses and bacterial infections. Let’s take a closer look at some of these and what makes them unique.  


Let’s begin with a little bit about what we know about the common cold. We’ve all had one as kids and likely as adults, as well. They are a nuisance, sometimes painful, and often cause us to miss work, school, and other fun activities. As adults, the recovery time tends to be relatively short, about 2-3 days, but children can have the symptoms for a little longer and require some bed rest. Human rhinovirus (HRV) and coronavirus (HCoV) infections are associated with the upper respiratory tract. New species of the virus have been seen in recent decades, along with the novel coronavirus that struck the United States last Spring. Most ‘common colds’  are caused by human rhinoviruses. According to some data, most children have about 8 to 10 colds during the first 2 years of their life and, if your child has spent any time in school and/or daycare, you know that this number might even be higher. That is, of course, because rhinoviruses are pretty contagious and easily pass from one child to another, especially if they are sharing toys, dolls, or playground. 


Because as a parent you have likely experienced a cold, you are likely to recognize the signs right away. They include:

  • Sneezing
  • A mild fever
  • Headaches
  • Sore throat
  • Cough
  • Muscle aches
  • Decreased appetite 

You may remember some home remedies that your parents did for you when you were little. If what your child has is a common cold, most of what you do is there for support, to allow their immune systems to attack the virus and kick it off. This includes things like a spoonful of honey, plenty of fluids like Gatorade and Pedialyte, a humidifier, and extra pillows. 

The Difference Between a Cold and a Flu

  1. The symptoms for the common cold and the flu are often similar, although they are caused by different viruses. Symptoms for the cold will tend to be milder. 
  2. Plus, cold symptoms tend to be accompanied by fever, as well as aches, and common headaches. 

When to See Your Doctor

In some instances, especially in children younger than 3 months or those with an underlying condition like asthma, your child might have to go see a doctor. Peds on Demand, urgent care for kids, sees dozens of kids each year for symptoms related to these conditions. Signs to be concerned might include wheezing, labored fast breathing, or a caught that is persistent and leads to choking or difficulty breathing. If you feel your child has had symptoms too long, bring them by and get them checked by a professional. 

Strep Throat: Another Common Winter Illness

Strep throat is caused by a bacterial infection called Group A Streptococcus. This bacteria is common and causes almost a third of all sore throats. It is highly contagious and is often passed on in school and wherever groups of teens and kids congregate. Unlike the common cold, Strep can be treated with antibiotics. A quick swab test is normally the first way a doctor tests for strep bacteria. The signs of Strep include:

  • The appearance of red and white patches in the throat
  • Trouble and painful swallowing
  • Headache
  • Some lower stomach pain
  • Loss of appetite  

How to Make Your Child Feel Better

Like many grandmas over many generations have claimed, hot chocolate is one sweet remedy! That’s one idea. Once the doctor has confirmed strep throat, there are some things you can do at home to keep your child comfortable and keep their spirits up. Similarly to colds, keeping children hydrated and with plenty of fluids is always step 1 in ensuring you’re supporting the body in its healing process. When it comes to Strep, however, be careful and avoid drinks like lemonade, orange juice, or other beverages that are very acidic. This can cause further irritation. Feel free to pull out the hot chocolate, sweet tea, and more. In most cases, after taking antibiotics for about 24 hours, your child might no longer be contagious. 

So, while you may have a lot of worries this winter about your child’s health, developing good habits, implementing handwashing and lifestyle choices, as well as visits to the pediatrician, are the necessary arsenal against the winter viruses we’ve all come to know so well. Let us enjoy the winter and the beautiful things in life! Stay healthy. Stay safe. And visit your child’s pediatrician regularly. Connect with us to find out more about our pediatric services. Call Peds on Demand today!