Flu Symptoms in Kids: What You Need to Know
It's the most dreaded time of the year: flu season. Anywhere from 3 to 11 percent of the population contracts influenza every year, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). Recognizing flu symptoms in kids is key to stopping the spread of illness. Diagnosis and proper treatment can also prevent health complications—like pneumonia, sinus issues, ear troubles, dehydration, and sepsis—that can lead to hospitalization and even death.
Read on to learn more about flu symptoms in toddlers, babies, and kids.
The Most Common Flu Symptoms in Kids
Children are especially susceptible to the flu because they're constantly surrounded by others in daycare and school. Symptoms usually appear a few days after exposure, according to Norman Moore, Ph.D, infectious disease expert and microbiologist with Abbott. However, a person may be contagious one day before symptoms appear, and an additional five to seven days after that.
Here are some common flu symptoms in children:
- Body aches
- Malaise and weakness
- Cough and chest discomfort
These flu symptoms will sometimes occur:
- Stuffy nose
- Sore throat
Unlike a cold, which has a gradual onset of symptoms, the flu comes abruptly. If your child is suffering from fever and chills, they probably have the flu. But if their main symptoms are sneezing, runny nose, and sore throat—and if their temperature is normal—then a cold is likely the culprit. It can also be hard to differentiate the flu and COVID-19; contact your doctor if you're unsure, and they might recommend a COVID test.
The flu can lead to complications like pneumonia, sinus problems, or ear infections. The risk is heightened in people with weakened immune systems, like children under 5 years old and those with allergies, heart disease, diabetes, and other chronic medical conditions. Visit a doctor ASAP if you notice difficulty breathing, excess irritability and drowsiness, accelerated heart rate, wheezing, hives, and other worrisome flu symptoms in kids.
Flu Treatment for Children
According to Dr. Moore, there is no treatment for the flu. Infected people should get plenty of rest and stay hydrated with electrolyte-heavy fluids. Visit your doctor as soon as you notice flu symptoms; a rapid flu test can give you a diagnosis in less than 30 minutes. Antiviral medication like Tamiflu can reduce the severity of the flu if taken within 48 hours after symptoms appear. Those with increased risk of complications are especially encouraged to take antiviral medications.
The best way to prevent the flu is getting vaccinated at the start of each season (preferably by the end of October). The flu shot usually has a 40 to 60 percent success rate, but even if your child gets the flu after vaccination, they will probably have milder symptoms and faster recovery.