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Flu Symptoms in Children

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Updated May 16, 2014

Written or reviewed by a board-certified physician. See About.com's Medical Review Board.

Flu Symptoms in Children
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Although most flu symptoms are the same for adults and children, there are a few differences. Children are common carriers of the flu virus and spread it quickly, and because they aren't the best about hygiene practices (such as washing their hands, or coughing and sneezing on each other), the flu spreads rapidly among kids — especially in settings such as day cares and schools.

 
  • Fever
    Kids tend to run fevers more often than adults. Almost all people run fevers when they have the flu, but they may be higher in children. These higher fevers aren't necessarily problematic, however, as long as the the child feels a little better after you give him Tylenol or Motrin. If your child does not perk up at all after taking fever-reducing medication, contact his health care provider.
    Read more about fevers : Are Fevers Dangerous?
  • Body Aches
    Children definitely experience body aches and pains when they get the flu, but it may be hard for them to tell you how they're feeling. Just a general description of "I don't feel good" or "it hurts all over" may be all you get, but if they have other flu symptoms as well, you can be pretty sure that they have body aches, too.
  • Cough
    A cough is a fairly common symptom of the flu for both adults and children, and it can vary from dry to moist-sounding. If you notice a whistling or wheezing sound when your child coughs or breathes, contact his health care provider, as this could be a sign that he's having trouble breathing.
    Is Your Child Having Breathing Problems?
  • Congestion
    Congestion is a flu symptom that some people experience to a greater degree than others. If your child has a lot of congestion with the flu, you'll want to keep an eye out for ear and sinus infections, which occur frequently in kids when they're very congested, and the mucus doesn't drain well enough. To minimize the mucus buildup, make sure you're running a good humidifier, encourage your child to drink plenty of water, and have her blow her nose frequently. If she's too young to blow her nose, suctioning with a bulb syringe and using saline drops are also effective.
  • Headache
    Headaches aren't a very common symptom for kids when they aren't sick, but they're a common symptom of the flu. A young child probably isn't going to tell you that she has a headache, but if she complains of pain anywhere on her head, she most likely does.
  • Sore Throat
    Sore throats are another common symptom of the flu. Although strep throat is one of the most common causes of sore throats in kids, the sore throat that comes along with the flu can also be pretty bad. It may not be quite as intense as strep, and it doesn't usually hurt so bad that it's difficult to swallow. If you aren't sure whether your child's sore throat is caused by strep or the flu, take him to the doctor to be tested.
  • Vomiting and Diarrhea
    Although many people believe that vomiting and diarrhea are common flu symptoms, they actually aren't. When most people get sick with significant vomiting and diarrhea, they have a stomach virus, not the flu. Children do, however, experience vomiting and diarrhea with the flu fairly frequently. It differs from the stomach virus because it will also be accompanied by other flu symptoms, such as cough and congestion — not just vomiting, diarrhea and fever.
  • Ear Pain
    Children can experience ear pain with the flu even if they don't have an ear infection. Mucus builds up in the sinuses, causing pressure and pain, and some children feel that pain in their ears. If the pain persists or becomes severe, your child may have developed an ear infection as a complication of the flu. Many ear infections in kids will go away on their own, but contact her health care provider if you have concerns, and for advice about treatment.
  • Loss of Appetite and Decreased Energy
    Most of us don't feel like eating very much when we're sick, and the same holds true for children. If your child is too young to tell you how he's feeling, the first signs of his illness may be a decrease in appetite. Children will often seem more tired than usual and not eat very well before they exhibit any other symptoms of the flu. If you start to notice that your child's appetite has decreased and he isn't as active as usual, monitor him for other flu symptoms, and contact his health care provider if you notice any. Young children under the age of 5 are at very high risk of developing serious complications from the flu, and may be able to take antiviral medications if the symptoms are caught early enough.

If your child develops a combination of these symptoms, she may have the flu. The only way to know for sure is to take her to the doctor to have her checked out and tested. Most children that get the flu recover, but children are at high risk — especially those under the age of 5. Unfortunately, multiple children die from the flu every year, so take all of the precautions that you can to avoid the flu, and protect your kids from it as well.

Sources:

Influenza (Flu). Lung & Respiratory Infections. KidsHealth. Nemours Foundation. 10 Jan 13.

Children, The Flu and The Flu Vaccine. Seasonal Influenza (Flu) 5 Dec 13. US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Department of Health and Human Services. 11 Jan 13.

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