What are the symptoms of flu in children?

Common flu symptoms:

  • A sudden fever of 38℃ or above
  • Chills
  • Fatigue/tiredness
  • Dry cough
  • Sore throat
  • Nausea and stomach pains
  • Diarrhoea and vomiting
  • Loss of appetite
  • Runny or blocked nose
  • Muscle or body aches
  • Sleeping difficulties
  • Earache in one or both ears

How to tell if it’s flu or something else – some of the symptoms of flu may be easily confused for other illnesses, such as the common cold or a stomach bug. The main way to tell whether your child has the flu, or if it is another illness, is that the flu comes on very suddenly and can result in a dramatic change in behaviour in children. Some of the most obvious changes for children are a loss of energy, loss of appetite, and becoming less talkative. Babies or non-verbal children may cry more and be more fussy if they have the flu.

If you’re still unsure whether your child has the flu or a cold, read our page on how to tell the difference between a cold and the flu. 

Can flu in children lead to other health problems?

Related health problems – children can get some other health problems as a result of getting the flu, including:

  • Pneumonia
  • Sinus Infections
  • Ear Infections
  • Reye’s Syndrome

The risk of using aspirin to treat flu in children – taking aspirin greatly increases the risk that a child will develop Reye’s syndrome, so a child should never be given aspirin unless directed by a doctor. Reye’s syndrome is a rare condition that causes an inflammation of the brain and liver, and can be fatal if left untreated. Reye’s syndrome is mostly seen in younger children or teenagers who are recovering from viral infections, such as the flu or chickenpox. It is especially risky to take aspirin when they are recovering, or have recently recovered, from a viral infection.

How long does the flu in children last?

Average length of flu in children – symptoms of the flu will typically last for 3-5 days in children, though they may feel a little bit unwell for 1-2 weeks after recovering. If a child is seriously ill with the flu for a week or longer, take your child to a medical professional as soon as possible as the flu may develop into a more serious condition.

How long to keep your child at home for – while your child has symptoms of the flu, they should be taken out of school or nursery to stay at home and rest. They should stay home until they’ve fully recovered and don’t have flu symptoms any more. Allowing your child to rest at home makes sure that your child is able to recover quickly, and that they do not spread the flu to other children at school or nursery.

How can I make my child feel better?

While there is no cure for the flu, there are things that you can do to soothe your child’s symptoms and help them recover faster.

The best things to do to help your child are:

Keep them hydrated – make sure that your child gets plenty of liquids to replace those lost through fever, vomiting, and diarrhoea. Staying hydrated will also boost their immune system and reduce the dryness of their throat. Chicken soup is a good source of calories and hydration for children who have lost their appetite

Make sure that they get plenty of sleep – rest is one of the ways that the body repairs itself, and it especially important to aid recovery when a child is ill. Giving the body the opportunity to heal itself is the best thing you can do to help a child get over the flu

Use child-friendly medications – anti-inflammatory and pain-relief medications such as ibuprofen or paracetamol can help to reduce muscle aches and high temperatures caused by the flu. Make sure you do not give your child aspirin, as this can greatly increase the risk of your child developing Reye’s syndrome. Over-the-counter medications are not suitable for children under the age of 4, so you should consult with a doctor first before giving any medication to your child

Keep their noses clear – if you have a baby or young child who is has a blocked nose, you may need to use a nasal syringe or saline solution to clear their sinuses if they are unable to unblock their nose themselves. Steam from showers and baths can also help loosen up mucus to reduce congestion

When should I take my child to see a doctor?

There are signs to look out for that mean your child needs to see a doctor – while Flu usually passes without causing any health complications, there are some times when it may be necessary to take your child to see a doctor. If your child displays any of these symptoms, or you are worried about their symptoms in general, call the NHS non-emergency helpline on 111 or take them to a doctor:

Confusion, dizziness, or extreme fatigue - while mental fog and fatigue is associated with the flu, if these symptoms are especially noticeable then it may be an indication that your child has developed another infection or health complication

Severe pain when swallowing - While having a sore throat is a common symptom that may make it unpleasant or hurt to swallow, severe throat pain when swallowing may be a sign that your child has injured their throat or caught a throat infection

Pre-existing long-term conditions - If your child has a long-term medical condition, such as heart, lung, or kidney disease, it increases the likelihood that they could develop more serious health complications from a flu infection. This is especially important is your child has a condition, or is taking medications, that weakens the immune system

If your child’s symptoms persist longer than 7 days - If your child’s symptoms don’t go away then there may be another underlying infection that your child needs treatment for

Dehydration - If your child is refusing to drink liquids or is displaying symptoms of dehydration, such as being low on energy, having few or no tears when crying, or not going to the toilet, then go and see a doctor

Stiff neck - While it may not be an obvious complication, a stiff neck may be indicative of a meningitis infection, so it is best to have this checked with a medical professional

When to seek emergency help – sometimes the flu can develop into a serious or potentially life-threatening health condition. If your child displays any of these symptoms, call 999 or take your child to A&E immediately:

  • Breathing difficulties
  • Sudden chest pains
  • Coughing up blood
  • Skin or lips turn blue or grey
  • Convulsions or seizures

How do I keep myself healthy when my child has the flu?

There are a few ways to avoid catching flu from your child – it can be difficult to stay healthy when looking after an ill child, as you are constantly exposed to the infection. However, there are some precautions you can take to reduce the chances of you catching your child’s illness:

Clean your hands with soap and antibacterial gel – if you are looking after a sick child, then you will be in direct physical contact with the virus, so you should make sure sure that you regularly wash your hands with soapy water and use alcohol-based antibacterial gels. This is especially important after interacting with a sick child or handling contaminated materials, as it reduces the chances of viral transmission by killing the germs.

Keep their mouth and nose covered – teaching your child to cough and sneeze into their hands or a tissue will prevent water droplets, which carry the flu virus, from being expelled to the air. These droplets will hang in the air for a short period, which can lead to infection by being inhaled. Catching these infectious germs in a tissue will reduce the presence of the virus in the surrounding area.

Keep the surfaces clean of germs – the flu virus can survive outside of the body for 24 hours, and will rest on surfaces after being expelled in coughs or sneezes. Regularly cleaning surfaces, especially when someone in the house is infected, makes it less likely that the virus will be spread by contact with flu-contaminated surfaces.

Get yourself and your family vaccinated – the flu jab is the most effective way of preventing the spread of the flu. Getting the whole family vaccinated reduces the chances of the entire house getting infected if one person comes down with it. You can get the Flu jab for only £9.99 at any Superdrug Pharmacy or Health Clinic.

Set up a quarantine for your child – limiting your child’s movement around the house restricts the spread of the virus to a small area, meaning it’s less likely that those who do not come into direct contact with them will catch the flu as well. Staying in one place also means that your child expends less energy, so they can rest and recover more quickly.

Look after yourself – waiting hand and foot on a sick child can be an exhausting experience. Keeping yourself hydrated and getting plenty of rest is necessary to keep your immune system healthy and able to fight off any potential infections.