Flu: Symptoms, treatments and everything you need to know about the flu vaccine for adults and children

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  • Despite it being common amongst adults and children, flu can be serious if left untreated, with people dying from flu every year.

    For most people, seasonal flu will make them feel poorly for a week or so, but then they’ll recover. However, people in at-risk groups (such as pregnant women, over 65s and people with underlying health conditions such as severe asthma) are at higher risk of complications such as pneumonia – and should contact their GP if they get the flu.

    To help keep you informed on what to look for and how to treat it we’ve rounded up our guide on the tell tale flu symptoms in both adults and children, as well as information on the flu vaccine, flu nasal spray, and how you can treat flu if you contract it.

    Skip to flu in children

    Flu symptoms in adults

    The symptoms of flu can make a healthy person have to stay in bed for a week but it can be dangerous to people in at-risk groups – such as pregnant women, or those with an underlying health condition.

    If you have flu it will develop within one to three days of becoming infected, after which you’re likely to have aches and pains as well as symptoms like a sore throat, a cough and headaches. Typical flu symptoms include:

    • Fever or temperature of 38C or above
    • Sweats
    • Aching muscles
    • Dry cough
    • Tiredness and weakness
    • Sore throat
    • Sneezing
    • Headache
    • Runny or blocked nose
    • Chills
    • Limb or joint pain
    • Diarrhoea and tummy ache
    • Nausea and vomiting
    • Loss of appetite
    • Difficulty sleeping

    Some other illnesses start with symptoms similar to these – but can be a lot more serious (such as meningitis, malaria or pneumonia). If you have any additional symptoms, you should contact your doctor. Flu symptoms usually peak after 2-3 days and you should start to feel better again after 3-5 days.

    Read more: Home remedies for colds

    Flu treatments for adults

    If you’re feeling rotten with flu symptoms, there isn’t a magic cure – but there are some ways to ease your symptoms. Here are some of the treatments to try when you have a flu:

    • Take paracetamol or ibuprofen to lower your temperature – and ease aches and pains
    • Try a paracetamol-based flu remedy
    • Drink plenty of fluids
    • Take medicines like throat lozenges
    • Try decongestant spray
    • Stay in bed and rest

    For flu, you’ll usually need to rest for 7-10 days, so taking time off work is important.

    To prevent flu in the first place simple things like just eating healthily, getting enough sleep and drinking plenty of water can help your body to fight off the bugs. General hygiene measures like washing your hands regularly can also help to stop you from picking up bugs in the first place, too.

    When should I contact my doctor?

    For most people, flu is an unpleasant but harmless illness. However, it can be more serious for some people, such as the over 65s, pregnant women and people with underlying health conditions (such as severe asthma).

    These people are more prone to getting flu and also more likely to develop other illnesses like pneumonia. If you’re in one of these high risk groups, you should contact your doctor if you think you have flu, as you may be prescribed anti-viral medication. These will help to reduce the length of the time you are ill, relieve the symptoms and prevent complications.

    If you can’t get hold of your doctor try calling NHS 111 – but if you can’t get through to either your GP or NHS Direct and you’re in a high risk group, you should go to A&E. You should also go to A&E if your symptoms are particularly bad such as breathlessness or reduced urination and you can’t get through to your doctor.

    Flu vaccine for adults

    Unfortunately, there isn’t a secret way to completely protect yourself from flu but you could be entitled to a flu vaccination which would help to stop you from getting flu – although it’s not 100% effective for every type of flu.

    If you are over 65, pregnant, overweight, have underlying health conditions (like lung disease) or have a weakened immune system you could be eligible for a free flu jab on the NHS. You can also pay for the flu vaccine privately at a number of high street pharmacy chains such as Boots and Superdrug (paying up to around £20) if you don’t fall into the groups above, but would still like to be vaccinated.

    When is the best time of year to get the flu vaccine?

    The NHS advises that the best time of year to get a flu vaccine is from the beginning of October to the end of November, although it can be taken later in winter season.


    Flu in children

    Flu in children

    Worried about how to protect your kids from the flu this winter? It’s not as difficult as you think. You can easily keep your family safe from the flu by following a few simple tips.

    The NHS says that it’s very important for children who are ‘at risk’ (ie, have underlying health problems that could be worsened by getting the flu) to have their free seasonal flu nasal spray every year. Read on for more advice on flu symptoms and preventing flu in children, plus how to treat kids with flu.

    Flu symptoms in children

    If your child has flu they may feel quite poorly, and will display similar symptoms to adults with flu. Common symptoms to keep an eye out for are:

    • Fever
    • Aches and pains
    • Feeling tired and week
    • Blocked nose
    • Sore throat

    Flu symptoms will usually peak after two to three days. Children should recover rapidly and begin to feel much better within five to eight days, or even sooner. A cough and general tiredness may last for up to two to three weeks.

    Flu vaccination for children

    The flu vaccine is just one of the vaccines children need and was previously administrated in the form of an injection, but is now delivered in an easy and pain free flu nasal spray. This yearly nasal spray consists of one squirt in each nostril and will be available free on the NHS for children aged two, three and four years old and in school years one, two and three. If your child is aged two to 17 with long-term health conditions they may also be eligible.

    If your child is younger than school age they will have their nasal spray given to them at their general practise, or if they have started school they will have it with their classmates. Your GP or child’s school should contact you in autumn to let you know they will need a vaccination before winter, so you don’t need to worry about it.

    There are minimal side effects from having the flu nasal spray, at the most your child may get a runny nose for a few days. If they already have a cold then you may have to rearrange having them vaccinated as the spray won’t be able to absorb properly in a blocked nasal passage.

    If your child is aged between 6 months and 2 years old and is in a high-risk group for flu (diabetes, serious heart conditions, underlying neurological problems and kidney or liver disease), they will be offered an injected flu vaccine. This is because the nasal spray is not licensed for children aged under two.

    How to prevent flu in children

    • Get children to wash hands regularly with soap and warm water – especially after playing with other children, toys and before eating. Some experts say each wash should last as long as it takes to sing ‘Happy Birthday’ twice.
    • Carry disposable tissues and always cover mouths and noses when sneezing or coughing. Bin the used tissues straight away.
    • If you don’t have a tissue, encourage your child to cough or sneeze into their upper sleeve (not their hands).
    • Remind your child to avoid touching the eyes, nose and mouth

    How to treat the flu in children

    If your child does get the flu, make sure they rest and give them liquid paracetamol to bring down the fever and plenty of fluids.

    It’s important to remember that you should not use over-the-counter cough and cold medicines in children under age 6. There is no evidence that they work and they can cause side-effects such as allergic reactions, effects on sleep or hallucinations.

    Try the following treatments to try ease the symptoms of flu in children:

    • Lower the temperature in your child’s room
    • Use a cold, wet flannel to bring down their temperature
    • Hot apple and blackcurrant juice can be comforting
    • Decongestant rubs or vapourisers can help to clear blocked nose
    • If they’ve lost their appetite, try to feed them little and often rather than big meal
    • Keep them away from brothers and sisters – not only because it’ll stop them from passing the flu on, but it’ll also protect them from any other bugs their siblings might be carrying
    • Comfort them and reassure them that they’ll feel better soon

    Flu vs cold – how to tell which it is

    It can sometimes to be hard to distinguish between a strong cold and the flu, but some of the key differences are outlined below:

    • Develops in a few hours (vs appearing gradually with a cold)
    • Affects more than just the nose or throat (vs mainly being centred around the nose or throat)
    • Feel unwell, fatigued and unable to carry on with aspects of your daily routine such as going to work (vs feeling unwell but being are able to largely carry on with day-to-day activities)