If you’re like most people, you’ve caught the flu many times. And chicken pox? Probably. Strep throat? Also likely. As an adult, your immune system has already been through the ringer. While these experiences were hard on your body in the short-term, they added up to a tougher immune system in the long-term.

Our little ones don’t have that luxury, or immune strength. So, the flu in kids can be very serious. In fact, a recent study from the Center for Infectious Disease Research and Policy showed that it’s the youngest kids who are most at risk of serious complications from the flu. And unfortunately, hospitalizations due to influenza have spiked in the past decade – an indication that the flu may be getting harder to fight.

If your child is sick and you’re wondering if it’s the flu, spotting certain flu symptoms early is key to helping your kiddo recover more quickly. Here’s how to identify flu symptoms in your kids, and how to treat the flu at home fast.

Early flu symptoms in kids to watch for

Whether they pick it up on the playground, daycare or at school, the flu comes on quickly in kids – and grownups, too. Usually signs of flu in babies, toddlers and big kids begin to show up between one and four days after infection.

Knowing how to spot the symptoms early can help your child recover and alleviate symptoms faster. The first 48 hours are most important, and many parents have a hard time identifying whether their child is dealing with the flu versus a common cold.

A cold and flu can share common symptoms like a sore throat or stuffy nose. But the following symptoms signal it’s the flu, and not a cold:

  • It comes on suddenly
  • Fever is greater than 100° Fahrenheit
  • Coughing is dry and gunk-free
  • There’s a noticeable headache
  • Child experiences sudden weakness or exhaustion
  • It’s accompanied by vomiting or diarrhea

How long does the flu last in kids?

The flu typically lasts for about 7-10 days. But some symptoms like tiredness and fatigue may last a couple weeks longer.

If my child has the flu will I get it?

It’s possible. The flu is highly contagious and if your child is infected with it, it’s possible for them to start spreading the virus before showing symptoms.

That’s why the best protection against the flu is for everyone 6 months old and older to get an annual flu shot. But if your child does get the flu, other ways to reduce the chances of the virus spreading throughout your household include:

  • Wash your hands (and your child’s hands) frequently with warm water and soap for at least 20 seconds each time
  • Avoid touching your eyes, nose or mouth
  • Clean frequently touched surfaces and objects like door handles, faucets and kids’ toys on a regular basis
  • Teach your child to cough and sneeze into their elbow or sleeve

How to treat flu in kids

When your child is sick, all you want is for them to start feeling better. And getting help within the first 48 hours can help speed recovery.

1. Flu treatment for kids: Tips to relieve your child’s flu symptoms at home

As soon as you notice any symptoms of illness, there are few things you can do at home while you monitor the situation or wait to get a doctor’s appointment:

  • Help your child stay hydrated. Hydration is the most important aspect. Encourage your child to take small sips of water, juice, chicken soup or warm liquids. They may have a reduced appetite, and that’s okay – but make sure they are drinking plenty of liquids.
  • Let them rest. Rest will speed recovery. Encourage naps, and help them get to bed early at night.
  • Try a saline nasal spray. Using a saline spray to open up your child’s clogged nose can help them breathe easier, feel less pressure and relax.
  • Give your child only the medication your doctor recommends. Ibuprofen or acetaminophen are often recommended to reduce fever and relieve aches. But you should never give your child aspirin or over-the-counter flu medications. Call your doctor’s office to discuss your child’s specific flu symptoms and to get recommendations on medicines to treat them.

2. Stay home and get quality care online

The sooner your child can get an official diagnosis and treatment plan, the better. For example, your child’s doctor may prescribe antivirals to help protect your kiddo from severe flu complications like ear infections. Antivirals can be more effective when taken closer to the onset of symptoms.

But bringing your child to the clinic or urgent care can be hard when they’re feeling icky and need to rest. Plus, if they have a high fever and it is the flu, they’re probably contagious. The good news is that you can get quality online flu treatment and care in a couple of ways.


3. Call our 24/7 nurse line if you need help at any time

If you’re a HealthPartners patient or member, you have access to a team of nurses who are ready to help. They can talk with you about the symptoms your child is experiencing. They’ll help you decide whether online treatment is a good next step or if you should take your child in right away.

To talk with a nurse, you can call the HealthPartners CareLine℠ at 800-551-0859 or the Park Nicollet Nurse Line at 952-993-4665.

4. Know when to take your child to the emergency room for the flu

Parents often wonder when they should worry about flu symptoms in their child. Influenza is a serious illness that can lead to complications sometimes, especially in infants and toddlers. Go to your nearest emergency room if your child:

  • Experienced flu-like symptoms that improved but then returned worse
  • Is less than 3 months old and has a fever of above 100.4° Fahrenheit
  • Is between 3 months old and 3 years old, has a fever of above 100.4° Fahrenheit, and is showing signs of dehydration (e.g. dry eyes or mouth, hasn’t urinated in several hours)
  • Has a fever and unusual breathing (e.g. difficulty breathing, panting or wheezing)
  • Has a fever with rash
  • Has chest pain or pressure
  • Has sudden dizziness or confusion
  • Has severe or persistent vomiting
  • Has skin or lips that have turned gray or blue
  • Is extremely irritable
  • Is not eating or drinking
  • Not waking up or interacting with you

5. Bonus: Get your child a flu shot every year

Do flu shots actually work? Yes. Annual flu vaccinations can help reduce the chances of your child getting the flu by up to 60%, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). If they do get the flu, the flu vaccine can help reduce the severity of their symptoms and the risk of hospitalization.

Children between 6 months and 8 years old who haven’t been vaccinated for the flu before need two doses. They should get their first shot as soon as the vaccine is available for the season, which is usually in September. That way they can get their second dose by the end of October. If your child has had at least two doses of the flu vaccine before this season, they only need one dose, and they should also get it by the end of October.

Learn more about flu shots and why annual vaccination is important.

If you think your child has the flu, don’t delay getting them the care they need

Unfortunately, flu season is a long one, usually starting in October and lasting as late as May. But knowing how to spot the early flu symptoms in children and how to get them the care they need can offer you peace of mind and get your little one feeling better fast.