Flu is a common viral infection that is highly contagious among children and adults. Symptoms include fever, headaches, joint pains, and a sore throat. Most people recover in 1–2 weeks.

According to the National Foundation for Infectious Diseases, children are highly likely to catch the flu virus. It states that every year, around 20,000 children under 5 years old need hospital treatment for the complications flu can cause.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) adds that most people with flu do not need medical care. However, they recommend that people over 6 months old get the flu vaccination every year.

This article explains how children may experience flu symptoms and lists the appropriate treatments. It also highlights signs to look out for that could indicate a child is developing flu complications.

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Flu symptoms in children may include:

Children with flu may experience many of these symptoms, or just a few. The CDC explains that vomiting and diarrhea are more common flu symptoms in children than adults.

Learn more about flu.

Colds and flu share many symptoms.

However, people with flu often experience these symptoms more severely. Flu symptoms also usually come on suddenly, while colds may develop more gradually.

The table below shows possible flu and cold symptoms and how common they are in each condition.

Fever (over 100℉) CommonRare
Vomiting and diarrheaCommonRare
Sore throatSometimesCommon
ChillsFairly commonSometimes
Joint painsCommonSometimes
Muscle achesCommonSometimes
Runny or blocked noseSometimesCommon
Loss of appetiteCommonCommon

Most children do not need a medical assessment if they have flu.

However, in a 2019 leaflet for parents, the CDC describes flu symptoms that require urgent medical attention.

These include:

  • a fever above 104ºF
  • difficulty breathing or very fast breaths
  • seizures
  • chest pain
  • the ribs pulling in as the child breathes
  • dehydration, especially if the child has not urinated for 8 hours
  • a lack of alertness or responsiveness
  • worsening of any underlying conditions the child may have
  • weakness in the legs

It adds that parents or caregivers need to contact a doctor if an infant under 3 months old has any sort of fever.

Learn about when a child’s fever is too high.

While anyone can catch the flu, young children, particularly those under 2 years old, are at a higher risk of developing complications.

Children under 5 years old may also experience more severe symptoms than older children and adults.

Children with chronic health conditions

Flu is a respiratory infection, meaning it may affect a person’s breathing.

The Asthma and Allergy Foundation of America explains that people who have asthma may find that the flu virus triggers their asthma symptoms.

Children with neurological conditions may be more likely to develop complications if they catch the flu. This includes those with cerebral palsy and muscular dystrophy. For this reason, the CDC recommends calling a doctor immediately if a child with a neurological condition catches flu.

The American Lung Association notes that children with the following conditions are also at increased risk of flu complications:

Children having chemotherapy face additional risks.

Most children recover from the flu by getting plenty of bed rest and staying hydrated.

Doctors may prescribe antiviral medications if the child is very sick or has an underlying condition. These medications can shorten the duration of the infection and make the symptoms milder.

Some simple home remedies can also relieve flu symptoms. The American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) recommends using a nasal spray with saline solution or salty water.

These sprays go directly into each nostril and help flush out the nasal passages to relieve congestion and dryness. For infants under 6 months old, caregivers can use saline solution with a rubber suction bulb.

Children with flu may also find breathing easier if they use a humidifier. Humidifiers add moisture to the air, which can help clear a child’s nasal passageways.

Those ages 2 years and over can take ibuprofen and acetaminophen for a fever, headache, or muscle and body aches. The AAP warns against giving children aspirin, as it has links with Reye’s syndrome, a rare condition affecting a person’s liver and brain.

It is best for caregivers to talk with their child’s doctor if they are unsure which medication to give or the correct dose. If caregivers feel medication is still necessary for fever or pain relief after 3 days of symptoms, it is also important they speak with a doctor.

The CDC recommends yearly vaccinations to help protect against the flu.

Learn about the pros and cons of flu vaccination.

According to the AAP, most children recover from a flu infection in about 1 week. However, they may take another week or so to regain their energy levels fully.

Read more about how long the flu lasts.

Children with flu may experience nasal congestion, coughs, aches and pains, fever, and fatigue. These symptoms usually come on suddenly, leaving the child feeling unwell.

Most children do not need medical attention for the flu and recover within a week. However, some children may develop breathing difficulties or become less responsive and need urgent medical care.

Children with underlying conditions may develop complications from the flu virus. The infection may trigger symptoms of these other conditions.

Doctors can treat severe flu infections with antivirals. Health experts recommend people over 6 months old get the flu vaccine.