It's important to understand that the flu is different from a cold. The flu usually comes on suddenly. According to the CDC, people who have the flu often feel some or all of these symptoms:
- Fever* or feeling feverish/chills
- Sore throat
- Runny or stuffy nose
- Muscle or body aches
- Fatigue (tiredness)
- Vomiting and diarrhea (more common in children)
* It is important to note that not everyone with flu will have a fever.
Influenza in Children
Children younger than five are at increased risk for flu complications. If your child younger than five and has flu symptoms, call your pediatrician. However, seek emergency care immediately if your child:
- Has a fever with a rash
- Cries without tears (in infants)
- Has blue or purpilish skin color
- Has trouble waking up
- Has trouble breathing
- Is so irritable that they don’t want to be held
- Has stomach or chest pain or pressure
- Has confusion
- Has signs of dehydration such as dizziness or not passing urine
- Can’t stop vomiting or can’t drink enough fluids
The CDC recommends that everyone 6 months old and older get the flu shot every year.
Most of the time, people with influenza recover in a few days or up to two weeks. However, some people develop complications (such as pneumonia) as a result of the flu, some of which can be life-threatening and result in death. Pneumonia, bronchitis, sinus and ear infections are common complications of flu. Additionally, the flu can make chronic health problems worse.
People with asthma, for example, may experience asthma attacks while they have the flu and people with chronic congestive heart failure may experience worsening of their heart condition as a result of the flu.
When to seek medical care
Most children and adults will get better on their own without specific medications or care. However, a small percentage will develop severe complications. Here’s what to look for:
- Difficulty breathing (In adults, this shows as rapid or shallow breathing, wheezing or being unable to catch their breath. In children, additional signs include obvious straining of their chest and neck muscles, blue around their lips, wheezing or barking cough or leaning forward to breathe.)
- A high fever that doesn’t improve with acetaminophen or ibuprofen
- Lethargy or other alteration in behavior (Lethargy is worse than general “crumminess” – it means you have trouble awakening the person, even to eat or drink, and they just seem really out of it). Other signs can include confusion or difficulty walking.
- Refusing to eat or drink anything (especially if showing signs of dehydration such as decreased urination, a very dry mouth and eyes)
- Significant vomiting. While vomiting isn’t a typical flu symptom, it can occur in younger children. If your child can’t keep down food or fluids, call your doctor.
- Productive cough. That is, a cough that goes from dry to production of phlegm
- Severe ear pain (ear infection can be a complication, especially in kids)
- If you or a loved one is experiencing any of the above complications, visit your nearest emergency room right away.