- 10 Symptoms
- Flu Shot
What is the flu?
Flu is short for influenza. It’s a respiratory illness, meaning it affects the parts of the body involved in breathing: the nose, throat, lungs, and so on. Children who get the flu often have a sore throat, cough, and fever.
How long does the flu last in kids? Most children recover within a week, but mild symptoms may last up to a month. Each child will respond a little differently, but here’s what to expect in general:
- High fever for two to three days
- Congestion (runny or stuffy nose) lasting one to two weeks
- Coughing for two to three weeks
- Feeling very tired for up to four weeks
The flu is most contagious in the 24 hours before symptoms start and during the first three to four days of illness. Children may be able to spread the flu to others for more than a week after they first have symptoms. Keep your child at home until they have been fever-free for at least 24 hours without taking fever-reducing medicine.
What are flu symptoms and signs?
Unlike a cold, the flu comes on suddenly. It is not uncommon for a child who seemed perfectly well the day before to spike a fever of 103°F. Symptoms vary, but can include:
- The flu usually, but not always, causes a fever of at least 101°F. Your child’s temperature may go up as high as 103° or 104°F in the first few days of illness.
- A child with the flu may feel very cold, even if they are in a warm room. They may shiver and shake.
Headache and body aches
- The headaches caused by the flu are much more painful than the mild headache you get with a cold. And if your child tells you they “hurt all over,” they probably aren’t exaggerating. The flu can cause severe muscle and joint aches.
- Your child will probably feel exhausted, weak, and uninterested in active play. They will need plenty of extra rest.
Sore throat and cough
- Flu can cause a sore throat and fever, but so can an infection of strep throat. You can tell the difference by the cough: strep does not cause a cough, which the flu nearly always does. The coughing caused by the flu is dry and often severe.
Loss of appetite
- If your child is sick with the flu, they may not feel like eating in the first day or two. Offer simple foods like toast or applesauce. It’s okay if they don’t eat much, but it’s very important that they drink enough fluids. Juice or broth can help soothe their throat, ease their cough, and keep them hydrated.
Vomiting and diarrhea
How do children catch the flu?
- The flu is caused by the very contagious influenza virus.
- One child often passes it to another by sneezing, coughing, or sharing items like forks, spoons, or cups.
- The virus can live on surfaces like doorknobs and toys. Your child can get the flu by touching something a sick person touched, then touching their eyes, nose, or mouth.
- Toddlers get the flu easily, because they like to explore by touching things, they put their hands in their mouths a lot, and they tend to rub their eyes and noses often.
How can you get tested to confirm the flu?
To test for flu, a doctor or nurse will swipe the inside of your child’s nose or the back of their throat with a swab. You can usually get results later that day.
What prescription medications are used for the flu?
Antibiotics only work on bacteria, so they won’t help with the flu virus. There is no cure for the flu, but there are medicines that can help ease your child’s symptoms:
- Antivirals like Tamiflu can reduce the severity of symptoms but cannot make them go away. They may help your child get better about a day sooner than they might have otherwise. They work better if started within 48 hours of the first flu symptoms, but they can still be given after 48 hours in some cases. Antivirals do have side effects. Tamiflu, for instance, causes vomiting in 10% of children who take it.
- The American Academy of Pediatrics recommends that antivirals be used only for children with especially severe symptoms and children at high risk of complications from the flu. This includes healthy children who are under 2 years of age and children of any age who have health conditions such as asthma, diabetes, or cancer.
Latest Cold and Flu News
Daily Health News
What over-the-counter (OTC) products are used to treat the flu?
Over-the-counter medicine for the flu
- Cold and cough medicines found in drug stores and grocery stores are not safe for children under age six. They can cause serious side effects. Your doctor may prescribe a safe cough medicine if your child needs one. Allergy medicine will not help with flu symptoms.
- Acetaminophen (Tylenol) or ibuprofen (Advil) can help reduce fever and ease pain. It is extremely important not to give aspirin to a child with a viral illness, as this can lead to a rare but dangerous condition called Reye syndrome.
Is the flu shot (influenza vaccine) given to children?
The flu vaccine given yearly is aimed at protecting people from the flu and its serious complications, and also prevent hospitalization. The flu shot can be given to children to lessen the severity of flu symptoms if they become infected.
- According to the Centers for Disease Control, children are recommended to get the flu vaccine every year before the end of October, before the flu season starts.
- The flu shot can be given to children six months of age and older.
- A nasal spray vaccine is also available, which is not recommended for children under the age of 2 and for others with underlying medical conditions.
Health Solutions From Our Sponsors
American Academy of Pediatrics: "The Flu."
Centers for Disease Control and Prevention: "Influenza (Flu)."
Centers for Disease Control and Prevention: "Strep Throat: All You Need to Know."
Harvard: "Influenza: How to prevent and treat a serious infection."
Johns Hopkins: "Influenza (flu) in Children."
Seattle Children’s Hospital: "Flu."
Top How Long Do Flu Symptoms Last in Toddlers Related Articles
Afluria Quadrivalent (Influenza Vaccine)Afluria Quadrivalent (Influenza Vaccine) is an inactivated influenza vaccine indicated for active immunization against influenza disease caused by influenza A subtype viruses and type B viruses contained in the vaccine. Afluria Quadrivalent is approved for use in persons 18 years of age and older. In adults 18 through 64 years of age, the most commonly reported injection-site adverse reaction observed in clinical studies with Afluria Quadrivalent administered by needle and syringe was pain (=40%). The most common systemic adverse events observed were myalgia and headache.
Cold & Flu QuizAches? Pain? Fever? This Cold & Flu Quiz tests your knowledge on the difference between coming down with the common cold and sickness from influenza virus.
Cough Remedies and CausesRemedies for coughing to relieve symptoms, thin mucus, and clear phlegm include cough syrup and honey in hot water. Use suppressants to treat a dry cough. See a doctor when home remedies are not enough. Bronchitis or another condition may be to blame.
Cold vs. FluThough the common cold and flu share many signs and symptoms, they are caused by different viruses. Signs and symptoms include sneezing, sore throat, runny nose, fatigue, and cough. Treatment options for the cold and flu are similar and focus on reducing symptoms. Doctors may prescribe antivirals/neuraminidase inhibitors for the flu.
Cold, Flu, Allergy TreatmentsBefore treating a cold, the flu, or allergies with over-the-counter (OTC) medications, it's important to know what's causing the symptoms, which symptoms one wishes to relieve, and the active ingredients in the OTC product. Taking products that only contain the medications needed for relieving your symptoms prevents ingestion of unnecessary medications and reduces the chances of side effects.
COVID-19 vs. Flu vs. ColdWhen you're feeling sick, it can be difficult to distinguish the symptoms of a COVID-19 infection from the symptoms of the common cold or the flu (influenza). While fever is common with the flu and COVID-19, sneezing is typically only associated with colds. Though sore throats are typical with colds, they are uncommon with COVID-19 infections and the flu.
Fluzone High-Dose (Influenza Vaccine)Fluzone High-Dose Quadrivalent is a vaccine that helps protect people 65 years of age and older against influenza illness (flu). Vaccination with Fluzone High-Dose Quadrivalent vaccine may not protect all people who receive the vaccine.
Foods for the FluThe best foods to eat when you have the flu soothe symptoms and help you feel better faster. Good foods to eat with the flu include popsicles, turkey, vegetable juice, chicken soup, garlic, ginger, hot tea, bananas, toast, meal replacement drinks, oranges, pumpkin seeds, and carrots.
How Long Is a Cold or Flu Contagious?Viruses cause the common cold and the flu. Early symptoms and signs for a cold and the flu are similar, however, flu symptoms are typically more severe than cold symptoms. Cold and flu viruses are transmitted typically via coughing or sneezing.
Flu (Influenza)Influenza (flu) is a respiratory illness caused by a virus. Flu symptoms include fever, cough, sore throat, runny nose, headache, fatigue, and muscle aches. The flu may be prevented with an annual influenza vaccination.
New Parents MistakesParenting a child isn't easy. Explore the top 10 mistakes that new parents make. Discover newborn parenting tips for breastfeeding, learn to deal with crying babies, child's fevers, and more.
Natural Cold & Flu RemediesWhat natural remedies work for the flu and common cold? Many claim cold symptoms and flu symptoms can be relieved with Echinacea, zinc, neti pots, garlic, vitamin C, saltwater gargles, nasal strips, or bed rest. Find out what cold and flu treatments work the natural way, and what doesn't.
ParentingGood parenting helps foster empathy, honesty, self-reliance, self-control, kindness, cooperation, and cheerfulness, says Steinberg, a distinguished professor of psychology at Temple University in Philadelphia. It also promotes intellectual curiosity, motivation, and desire to achieve. It helps protect children from developing anxiety, depression, eating disorders, antisocial behavior, and alcohol and drug abuse.