Flu in Toddlers

Medically Reviewed by Dan Brennan, MD on November 14, 2022

When the flu hits your toddler, there probably won't be much doubt that he's not feeling like himself. You'll likely see signs like a sudden high fever and chills that suggest it's more than a cold.

There's a lot you can do to make your little one more comfy while his body fights it off. And most important of all, there's a vaccine that can keep him from getting sick in the first place.

Is It Really the Flu?

You might wonder whether your child has the flu or a really bad cold.

If it's a cold, your toddler may feel somewhat worse than usual and have a:

If it's the flu, on the other hand, your toddler may have things like:

  • Sudden high temperature that persists despite fever reducer medication
  • Feel much more tired than usual, sleep more, and do a lot less activity
  • Sore throat
  • Dry cough
  • Stuffy or runny nose
  • Feel achy or have chills
  • Throw up or have diarrhea
  • Feel much sicker than when he has a cold

The symptoms can last about a week, sometimes two.

How to Take Care of Your Sick Toddler

When your child has the flu, you'll want to keep him comfortable.

Make sure he rests. Your toddler will be more tired than usual. Try to get him to take naps during the day, plus a long sleep at night.

Get him to drink up.Water, juice, yogurt, electrolyte solutions, and chicken soup are all fine choices to keep him hydrated. Warm liquids may even help to unclog a stuffy nose.

Bring down the fever.Acetaminophen or ibuprofen can help. Ask your doctor's office what the correct dosage is for your toddler's weight and how often to give it. Never give your child aspirin because it's linked to a rare but serious illness called Reye's syndrome.

Try something sweet. If he's is older than 1 year of ageg and has a bad cough, 1/2 teaspoon of honey can help. Steer clear of over-the-counter cough medicine. It's not safe for toddlers.

Use nasal spray. You don't need to get an over-the-counter drug to help your toddler breathe easier when he's got a clogged nose. Instead, buy a saline spray, which is just salt water. If you spray once or twice in each nostril, it should help to open the airways.

Help him breathe easier at night. When your toddler goes to sleep, put a cool-mist humidifier in his room. The moisture from the vapor helps relieve his stuffy nose.

A Drug to Treat the Flu?

Steer clear of over-the-counter cold and flu medicine -- they aren't safe for children under age 4.

The flu is caused by a virus, so antibiotics, which fight bacteria, won't do any good. But a drug called oseltamivir (Tamiflu) works against the flu virus, and it's safe to give to toddlers.

There are a few drawbacks, though. For one thing, it's only effective if you use it in the first 2 days after your child gets the flu. Also, it won't make symptoms go away, though it does make them milder and shortens the duration of symptoms by 1-3 days as in the next sentence.

Oseltamivir may make your toddler's bout with the flu end a day or two early. Talk to your doctor about it. He may not prescribe the drug unless your child has a severe case of the flu or other underlying illnesses.

Flu Shots Help

A flu vaccine can help prevent your toddler from getting the flu in the first place. He'll need to get it once a year. The vaccine is safe for everyone 6 months old and older and is offered every September.

Show Sources


American Academy of Pediatrics: "The flu," "Caring for your child's cold or flu," "Influenza exposure."

American Academy of Family Physicians: "Fever in infants and children."

CDC: "What you should know about flu antiviral drugs," "Vaccination: Who should do it, who should not and who should take precautions," "ACIP votes down use of LAIV for 2016-2017 flu season."

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