What are the symptoms of flu and what should I do?

Symptom Database

Flu, short for influenza, is a highly contagious viral infection that affects the respiratory system. It is characterized by flu-like symptoms that can range from mild to severe. In this article, we will explore the common signs of flu, how it differs from a cold, and what you should do if you or your loved ones experience flu symptoms.

Flu-Like Symptoms: What to Look Out For

Flu-like symptoms can vary from person to person, but there are some common flu symptoms that you should be aware of. These include:

  • Fever
  • Cough
  • Sore throat
  • Runny or stuffy nose
  • Body aches
  • Headache
  • Fatigue
  • Chills
  • Nausea or vomiting
  • Diarrhea (more common in children)

If you or someone you know experiences these symptoms, it is important to take them seriously and seek medical attention if necessary.

Flu vs. Cold: How to Tell the Difference

It can sometimes be difficult to differentiate between the flu and a common cold, as they share some similar symptoms. However, there are a few key differences that can help you determine whether you have the flu or a cold.

Duration of Symptoms

Flu symptoms tend to come on suddenly and are more severe than those of a cold. While a cold may last for a few days to a week, the flu can linger for up to two weeks.


Fever is more common and tends to be higher with the flu. If you have a temperature of 100.4°F (38°C) or higher, it is more likely to be the flu rather than a cold.

Body Aches

Body aches are a hallmark symptom of the flu and are less common with a cold. If you feel achy all over, it is more likely to be the flu.

Flu Symptoms in Adults, Children, and Babies

The symptoms of flu can vary depending on the age of the individual. Here’s what to look out for:

Flu Symptoms in Adults

In adults, flu symptoms are similar to those mentioned earlier. However, adults are more likely to experience a dry cough rather than a productive cough with phlegm.

Flu Symptoms in Children

Children may exhibit the same flu symptoms as adults, but they are also more prone to experiencing gastrointestinal symptoms such as nausea, vomiting, and diarrhea.

Flu Symptoms in Babies

Flu symptoms in babies can be more challenging to identify, as they are unable to communicate their discomfort. Look out for signs such as irritability, poor feeding, difficulty breathing, and a high-pitched cry.

Treating Flu Symptoms

While there is no cure for the flu, there are several steps you can take to alleviate symptoms and promote recovery:

  • Rest: Get plenty of rest to allow your body to heal.
  • Stay hydrated: Drink fluids such as water, herbal tea, and clear broths to prevent dehydration.
  • Over-the-counter medication: Nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs) can help reduce fever and relieve body aches. However, always consult a healthcare professional before taking any medication.
  • Use a humidifier: Adding moisture to the air can help ease congestion and soothe a sore throat.
  • Gargle with saltwater: Mix half a teaspoon of salt in a glass of warm water and gargle to relieve a sore throat.

If your symptoms worsen or persist for an extended period, it is crucial to seek medical attention. Certain individuals, such as young children, older adults, pregnant women, and those with underlying health conditions, are at a higher risk of developing flu complications.

Preventing the Flu: Tips to Stay Healthy

Prevention is always better than cure when it comes to the flu. Here are some essential tips to help you stay healthy:

  • Get vaccinated: The flu vaccine is the most effective way to prevent the flu. It is recommended for everyone aged six months and older.
  • Practice good hygiene: Wash your hands frequently with soap and water for at least 20 seconds. If soap and water are not available, use an alcohol-based hand sanitizer.
  • Avoid close contact: Stay away from individuals who are sick, and if you are sick, limit contact with others to prevent the spread of the virus.
  • Cover your mouth and nose: Use a tissue or your elbow to cover your mouth and nose when coughing or sneezing to prevent the spread of germs.
  • Clean and disinfect: Regularly clean and disinfect frequently-touched surfaces, such as doorknobs, light switches, and cell phones.

By following these preventive measures, you can significantly reduce your risk of contracting the flu and protect those around you.

In conclusion, flu-like symptoms are a cause for concern and should not be taken lightly. By recognizing the signs of flu, understanding the differences between the flu and a cold, and taking appropriate measures to prevent the spread of the virus, you can minimize the impact of the flu on your health and well-being.

Haroon Rashid, MD
Rate author
Urgent Care Center of Arlington, VA
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