Cold and Flu Season: When to call the pediatrician

B.S. Dietetics, Dietitian, Health Professional

It's that time of year again - the dreaded cold and flu season.  If you are anything like me, this time of year can have you on the edge of your seat, praying your kids don't catch something that could be dangerous with their asthma.  Once your child is sick it can be a balancing act of deciding to "wait and see" or taking them to the doctor and risk catching something worse than you went in with.

Let me preface this by saying that if you have any question or if your gut tells you your child is acting differently than a normal sickness please have your child seen by their physician.  Otherwise, if you're on the fence, these are some general guidelines to know when to treat at home and when you need to get some additional help from the pediatrician.


Any fever in an infant below the age of three months warrants a call or visit to the pediatrician.  For older children a fever under 102 degrees is generally considered a low fever and can be treated at home.  If my girls have a fever above 102 we always call our pediatrician's office and get their advice on whether they need to be seen or not.  When a fever gets to 105 or higher your child must be seen that day!

It is also important to note that the common fever reducer ibuprofen can trigger asthma attacks in some people.  Should your child be sensitive to ibuprofen ask the pediatrician what alternative to use or stick to acetaminophen.  Be sure to get this information before your child is sick and have the fever reducers on hand this time of year.  That can save you rushed trips to the all-night pharmacy.

Increased asthma symptoms

Many children with asthma will see an increase in their symptoms when they develop an upper respiratory infection.  You can reduce the risk of additional problems by sticking with the controller medication and having a plan for these types of issues.  We have talked with our pediatrician and know that our girls may need scheduled breathing treatments with their rescue inhaler when they have this type of infection.  Your pediatrician can give you advice on how to handle your child's flare ups before they get sick.

Sometimes it can be hard to tell if a cough is asthma or a cold (or both).  Keeping a Peak Flow Monitor in your home and knowing your child's maximum peak numbers can clue you in to any decrease in lung function.  It can also be helpful to have a pulse ox monitor which measures the oxygen content in the blood.  Anything below 95 percent warrants a call to the physician.

Green or yellow phlegm (cue the "ew's")

Yes, I know - talking about phlegm is nasty but it is a necessary evil when you have kids with asthma.  Clear snot is usually due to a cold or allergies and does not require a visit to the physician unless you have additional symptoms.  If your child's mucus turns green, yellow or is tinged with blood it is time to see the pediatrician.  This kind of phlegm in the sinuses could signal a sinus infection and when coughed up it could be as serious as pneumonia.  These infections require an antibiotic and won't get better on their own so make that appointment - stat.

Obviously there are many other illnesses that children deal with this time of year but these are the ones that tend to cause the most issues with children that have asthma.  Be sure to keep your asthmatic's vaccinations up-to-date, including the flu and pneumonia vaccines as directed by your physician.  If you ever have any questions give your doctor's office a call.  It's always better to be seen and not need it than to skip an appointment at the risk of your child's health.

Here's to hoping that we all make it through this cold and flu season unscathed! ee More Helpful Articles:**** New Research Fights Pediatric Asthma Epidemic
6 Tips for Asthmatics to Manage Spring Allergies
5 Triggers That Could Be Wreaking Havoc On Your Asthma
The Cost of Asthma: Are you financially burdened?

Jennifer has a bachelor's degree in dietetics as well as graduate work in public health and nutrition.She has worked with families dealing with digestive disease, asthma and food allergies for the past 12 years.Jennifer also serves the Board of Directors for Pediatric Adolescent Gastroesophageal Reflux Association (PAGER).