Flu season is here – when to bring your child to the emergency room

Over the past few weeks our pediatric and adult emergency rooms have swelled with patients with flu-like symptoms looking for relief.

While it is critical that some seek emergency help, the majority of patients with the flu do not need emergency medical care.

In the Pediatric Emergency Department we are seeing a lot of children with flu-like symptoms who have high fevers (103F-105F). As a mom to a toddler and a preschooler I know how worrying those high fevers and respiratory symptoms can be, and I have to remind myself that a fever is actually a sign of the body taking care of itself. So when should you bring your child to the emergency room and what can you do at home to relieve symptoms?

This information is meant as a guide, but should not be used in place of medical advice from your health care provider.

When to bring your child with fever and flu symptoms to the emergency room

  1. Your child is struggling to breathe.
    If your child’s skin has a blueish tinge, is breathing fast or is struggling to breath
  2. Is not waking up
    It is normal when we’re sick to sleep or rest, but if you can’t get your child to wake during the day or the child is not interacting go to the emergency room.
  3. If your child has a high-risk condition, such as heart, lung or kidney disease, or an immune-system disease and is spiking a high fever (103F-105F) seek medical help.
  4. If your usually affectionate child is so irritable he or she doesn’t want to be held
  5. Has a fever AND rash
  6. If your infant has no tears when crying or has significantly fewer wet diapers for 8 to 10 hours.
  7. Any infant less than 2 months old who has a fever over 100.4F.

My child seems to be coming down with flu-like symptoms, but none of the above apply.

The kid is miserable and so am I should we come in?

If your child is at high risk of flu complications because of another condition, call your health care provider, otherwise you can probably avoid the emergency room. Try to make children as comfortable as possible at home.

  1. Let them rest
  2. Make sure that they are getting lots of fluids to avoid dehydration
  3. Let the fever do its job. However, if your child is uncomfortable try lowering the body temperature with a lukewarm bath (do not use ice packs or a cold bath) or giving acetaminophen or ibuprofen. Make sure you give the right dose! Talk to your pediatrician or pharmacists for help in finding the right dose. Do not over bundle them.

What if my child has a fever over 103, should I bring them in?

My child’s temperature recently soared to 105.6 Fahrenheit, and he was uncomfortable so we brought the fever down by alternating doses of ibuprofen and acetaminophen, talk to your pediatrician before trying a combination approach. DO NOT GIVE THEM ASPIRIN – there has been an association with Reye’s syndrome. The medications won’t get rid of the flu, but they may help you and your child ride out the flu with less suffering. If the fever persists for more than three days or if your child develops any of the symptoms above contact your pediatrician.

What we can and can’t do in the emergency room

Make my kid better please!

There is nothing we would like more than to make your child feel better. It’s what we’ve dedicated our lives to. When it comes to the flu we are limited in what we can do. Because the flu is a virus, antibiotics like amoxicillin are USELESS. In fact, they are worse than useless and can be harmful if used when not needed.

FIND OUT MORE ABOUT ANTIBIOTIC MISUSE AND DRUG-RESISTANCE HERE.

While there are antiviral drugs like Tamiflu, there is a very small window at the beginning of the flu where they have limited effectiveness. Usually, by the time your child is exhibiting symptoms, it’s too late. What we can do in the emergency room is help if your child is dehydrated or struggling to breathe.

How can we stop the rest of the family from getting sick?

  1. Teach your children to cough into their elbows and model the behavior to help reduce the amount of germs flying through the air.
  2. Make sure everyone in the family practices good hand-washing technique and washes their hands frequently–after going to the bathroom, before eating or touching their face, etc.
  3. Use masks! Stop the droplets.
  4. Get the flu vaccine. I know, I know, this year’s flu vaccine isn’t as effective as usual, but it is stopping some of the flu variants, AND it may help reduce the length of time you’re affected.
  5. Eat well, get plenty of sleep and exercise.

Healthy wishes,
Melissa Hodges RN

Melissa Hodges is a pediatric emergency room RN and mom to two young boys. Melissa has been at Tucson Medical Center for ten years. She is a knitting ninja apprentice, who makes a mean chili and enjoys spending time with her family and friends in beautiful Tucson, Arizona.


Tucson Medical Center | 5301 E. Grant Road | Tucson, Arizona 85712 | (520) 327-5461