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How Long Do Flu Symptoms Last?

And How Do They Affect Your Children?

Camille Freking, MS Pharmacology Profile Photo

Written by Camille Freking, MS Pharmacology on December 14, 2021

Children are considered to be at increased risk of infection from the flu, which causes a variety of symptoms that can range from mild to severe. If your child is sick with the flu, you may be wondering how long do flu symptoms last and how do they affect children?

What Is the Flu?

The flu, sometimes referred to as influenza, is a highly contagious viral infection that primarily causes symptoms affecting the respiratory system. In addition to respiratory symptoms like nasal congestion, runny or stuffy nose, and cough, the flu can also cause symptoms affecting other parts of the body, such as body aches, high fever, diarrhea, vomiting, and headache.

While more mild infections like the common cold resolve more quickly and are easier to overcome, the flu can be a serious and potentially life-threatening infection in children. The flu is present year round but is most contagious during the winter months.

In humans, there are three types of flu that are known to occur: influenza A, B, and C. Influenza A is a more prevalent form of the influenza virus that can cause severe symptoms of illness. Influenza B can also cause severe symptoms but is not considered as contagious or dangerous as Influenza A. Influenza C is a mild form of the flu that may cause limited symptoms or no symptoms.

What Flu Symptoms Do Children Have?

The influenza virus causes symptoms that vary somewhat between children and adults.

Children are more likely to experience a severe form of the flu than adults, and kids under the age of five, especially those under the age of two, are particularly at risk of experiencing severe complications.

The flu is classified as a respiratory illness and tends to cause a rapid onset of symptoms, with some children feeling extremely ill within a day after contracting the virus. By contrast, the cold virus causes an infection that builds in intensity over the course of a few days.

Flu symptoms in children include:

  • Fever of up to 105 degrees Fahrenheit
  • Fatigue or tiredness and weakness
  • Headache
  • Dizziness
  • Stuffy or runny nose
  • Body aches, muscle aches, and chills
  • Diarrhea
  • Vomiting
  • Sore throat
  • Nausea
  • Cough that increases in severity
  • Chest pain
  • Loss of appetite

Children are more likely to experience gastrointestinal symptoms, such as nausea, vomiting, and diarrhea than adults. A high fever is more common in adults than in children.

How Long Do Flu Symptoms Last?

Symptoms of the flu are miserable for anyone, but children are more likely to catch a severe case of the flu, especially those under the age of two.

Most flu symptoms in children resolve in about a week, with fever and muscle aches typically lasting anywhere from two to four days. Some mild symptoms, including cough and tiredness, can take longer to disappear, with cough lasting for several weeks and lingering feelings of fatigue lasting for up to a month after other symptoms disappear.

Each child experiences the flu differently, so the amount of time your child spends sick will likely vary depending on the severity of their case, their age, and other chronic health conditions they may have.

The flu is contagious beginning approximately 24 hours before the onset of any symptoms and through the peak of symptoms, which lasts about a week. Because children are contagious with the flu before exhibiting symptoms, the virus spreads rapidly, particularly at school and daycare.

How Does the Flu Spread?

All three types of influenza are considered airborne viruses. This means that the virus primarily spreads from person to person when an infected individual coughs, sneezes, or speaks in close proximity to a healthy individual. Infected people transmit the virus through tiny drops of water vapor that are released when we cough, sneeze, or speak.

While the flu is most commonly spread through the air, the influenza virus can also live on surfaces for a short period of time. Therefore, it is possible to catch the flu by touching a surface that has been touched by an infected person and then touching your own eyes, nose, or mouth.

The flu spreads especially quickly among children for several reasons. First, children are often in very close proximity to each other at school or daycare, allowing the virus to be transmitted quickly through the air. Second, children are less likely to cover their mouths and noses when sneezing or coughing. Children may also be less likely to wash their hands after sneezing or coughing, which means common surfaces may carry the virus.

What Flu Treatments Are Available?

If your child is sick with the flu, you have several options to help address their symptoms, including antiviral drugs, homeopathic remedies, acetaminophen, and cough medicine.

Antiviral Drugs

Antiviral drugs are prescription medications that are specially formulated to support your body in its fight against the influenza virus. These medications come in a variety of forms, including liquids, powders, pills, and intravenous solutions. They can be especially helpful for very young children or children who are considered to be at risk of complications of the flu, such as those with asthma.

Antiviral drugs work best when taken within two days of symptoms beginning and may help to reduce symptoms and reduce the amount of time your child spends sick. However, antiviral drugs are not a cure for the flu.

Homeopathic Remedies

Homeopathic remedies are formulated from tiny amounts of natural ingredients that are used in an alternative medicine practice called homeopathy. Based on the principle that “like cures like,” homeopathic remedies are not intended to treat or prevent medical conditions like the flu.

However, they may be able to help address some of your child’s more uncomfortable flu symptoms, such as fever, cough, body aches, and nasal congestion, and may support overall health.

Many homeopathic remedies are safe to be given to children, unlike their pharmaceutical counterparts, which may contain ingredients that aren’t appropriate for younger children.

Acetaminophen or Ibuprofen

Pain relievers and fever reducers like acetaminophen and ibuprofen can help reduce discomfort from flu symptoms like fever, body aches, and headache, allowing your child to sleep more easily and making them more comfortable.

These active ingredients are commonly found in many over-the-counter medications designed to address cold and flu symptoms and can also be purchased on their own.

Avoid giving aspirin to children, as long-term aspirin therapy may increase their risk of Reye’s syndrome.

Cough Medicine

The non-stop hacking cough that is sometimes associated with the flu can keep your child awake at night, preventing them from getting the amount of sleep they need to fight the virus.

Over-the-counter cough medicines like dextromethorphan, a cough suppressant, can be helpful in reducing the urge to cough and helping your child get a good night’s rest.

Cough medicines should never be given to children under the age of four, as these medicines have not been shown to be safe or effective in young children and can be dangerous.

What Are Some Possible Complications of the Flu in Children?

The flu is a serious infection that can be very dangerous for children, particularly when they are very young. Although most children recover from the flu in about a week, the flu can cause severe and potentially life-threatening complications that cause thousands of children each year to behospitalized.

Children with pre-existing chronic health conditions and those under the age of five are considered most at risk of experiencing flu complications.

Possible complications of the flu in children include:

  • Pneumonia, an infection of the lungs that can be life-threatening
  • Encephalopathy or swelling of the brain
  • Bronchitis
  • Dehydration, commonly occurring as a result of high fever, vomiting, or diarrhea in children who are unable to keep down fluids
  • Sinus infections and ear infections
  • Worsening of pre-existing chronic health issues such as asthma, heart disease, or liver or kidney problems

In rare cases, these complications can be life-threatening or require an extended hospital stay. If your child experiences sudden dizziness, persistent vomiting, shortness of breath, or difficulty breathing, consult your doctor promptly.


Flu symptoms affect each child differently depending on the severity of the illness. Symptoms like fever and body aches generally subside after two to four days, while respiratory symptoms like nasal congestion or runny nose typically last for approximately a week. More minor symptoms like cough and fatigue may last for up to a month after the onset of symptoms.

Flu symptoms in children typically include a fever as high as 105 degrees Fahrenheit, body aches, cough, sore throat, runny or stuffy nose, headache, nausea, vomiting, and diarrhea.