Toddlers can experience numerous colds each year before they start school. However, influenza, or flu, can take these aches and pains to a higher and potentially much more serious level. It is common for very young children to experience illness many times each year due to their developing immune systems and a tendency to put everything into their mouths.


A toddler with the flu may experience a runny nose, sore throat, and dry cough. The flu is an acute, viral, respiratory infection that most people recover from in 3–7 days. Symptoms of the flu in toddlers are similar to those of adults and may include: Dry cough, sore throat, blocked or runny nose, fever, muscle aches, headaches, tiredness. When children get the flu, they are also more likely than adults to experience gastrointestinal problems, such as vomiting and diarrhea.

Difference between cold and flu symptoms

What appear to be flu symptoms in toddlers can be signs of other illnesses, such as a cold. Knowing what is causing a child’s illness helps adults provide better care, promotes a better recovery, and reduces the risk of complications.

The following are key differences between cold and flu symptoms in toddlers: Speed of onset: If symptoms come on very quickly, it is more likely to be the flu. Fever and chills: A high fever and chills are more likely to be signs of the flu.

Muscle aches:

Aching muscles are more common in children with the flu. Headache: Headaches are more frequently with the flu than with a cold. Low energy and appetite: Children are typically more lethargic and less hungry with the flu than a cold.

Treatment Children will typically recover in a week, but they may still feel tired for roughly 3–4 weeks. Key elements of successful home treatment include: Getting plenty of rest, drinking lots of fluids, using ibuprofen or acetaminophen in pediatrician recommended dosages.

People should never treat a child’s fever with aspirin due to its connection to Reye’s syndrome. A doctor can offer treatment if it is needed. Toddlers who may be at risk of serious complications can take flu antiviral medication. However, this treatment is most effective if the child receives it within 48 hours of symptoms appearing.

Risk factors

Even though most toddlers will recover quickly and without complications, the flu can be dangerous for some young children. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), children aged 6 months to 5 years face a significant risk of developing complications due to the flu.

The illness results in between 7,000–26,000 child admissions to the hospital every year. Although it is very rare, the flu can be fatal for some children. According to the CDC, children are at a higher risk of getting the flu and experiencing complications when they have additional health concerns. These concerns include: Asthma, diabetes, cancer, immune system problems, chronic lung disease, heart disease, kidney disorders.


Although the flu can be dangerous for some, most toddlers will recover from the flu in a week or less. They can remain contagious for up to 1 week or longer after becoming sick. A child should be free from fever for at least 24 hours before it is safe for them to return to nursery or childcare. However, some schools or childcare providers may have other specific rules. If a person has concerns about any of the symptoms a toddler has, they should seek medical help.