Flu is the common name for influenza, an infectious disease that primarily affects the nose, throat, and lungs. Flu season begins in the fall and ends in the spring. However, other types of the flu such as influenza B and H1N1, or swine flu, can occur at any time during the year. Many of the H1N1 flu symptoms are similar to signs of the common flu, which is why lab tests are essential during pandemics of swine flu. Early detection of flu will help you to follow immediate treatment and shorten the duration of flu symptoms.

Flu and Early Symptoms

Early flu symptoms include sore throat, fever, chills, headache, body aches, runny nose, sneezing, extreme fatigue, loss of appetite, nasal congestion, and dry cough. Nausea, vomiting and/or diarrhea are more common flu symptoms in children.

When to Seek Medical Attention

If you are experiencing sudden dizziness, discoloration of the lips, difficulty breathing, confusion, seizures, chest pain, or severe vomiting, it is important to seek medical attention right away. Many flu-like symptoms may actually be signs of a serious underlying condition.

Distinguishing Between the Flu and a Common Cold

It can be difficult to tell the difference between cold vs. flu symptoms. In general, symptoms of the flu are more intense than those of the common cold. Fever, fatigue, body aches, and cough are more common flu symptoms. A runny or stuffy nose is more common with colds.

How the Flu is Contracted?

Influenza is typically transmitted through the air or by contact with surfaces that have been contaminated with the virus. When a person with flu sneezes, talks or coughs, the virus is released and can spread to other individuals. The flu virus can also be contracted by touching a contaminated object such as a door handle. When you touch your mouth, eyes or nose after touching this object, contamination is possible.

Flu Immunity

Although your body builds immunity to the types of flu you’ve already had, type A and B flu are in a constant state of mutation. This means that new strains of the virus are being produced all of the time which you haven’t built immunity to.

Severity of Flu for Different Age Groups

The three highest risk groups when it comes to the flu are as follows:

  1. Elderly people aged 84 and older
  2. Older individuals 74 and up
  3. Children 4 and younger

Elderly individuals and young children are much more susceptible to suffer from complications with the flu. For instance, elderly individuals with pre-existing conditions such as asthma or emphysema will need to be especially cautious in detecting flu symptoms. Parents of young children should be aware of toddler flu symptoms such as irritability, abdominal pain, fever, vomiting and/or diarrhea.

Understanding flu and early symptoms will help you to take action immediately. Your doctor will be able to recommend an effective plan for treatment when flu symptoms occur. In many cases, the duration of flu symptoms can be significantly decreased with over-the-counter medications, rest, and plenty of fluids.


The majority of people who acquire flu symptoms are able to recover within a week or two. For a minority of individuals, symptoms of flu can last much longer and cause severe illness. Understanding early flu symptoms will help you to take appropriate action for healing on your own or getting the medical attention that you need if the condition is more serious.

Common symptoms of the flu include:

  • Unusual loss of energy
  • Loss of appetite
  • Fever
  • Sore throat
  • Aching muscles
  • Shortness of breath
  • Cough
  • Runny nose
  • Headache
  • Diarrhea and/or vomiting


Understanding the Risks

While the influenza virus will pass in more or less than a week or two in most people, flu symptoms in children, especially young children, and elderly individuals can become serious if not treated effectively. Also, people with preexisting conditions such as chronic heart disease, kidney disease, lung disease, liver disease, diabetes mellitus, neurological disease, or immunosuppression may also be at higher risk when experiencing flu and symptoms associated with the virus. In addition, pregnant women and people who have received drug treatment for asthma within the last few years may also be at higher risk. In these cases, it is important to visit your doctor when experiencing a longer duration of flu symptoms.

Different Types of Flu 

There are different types of flu viruses including the common flu (influenza), the stomach “flu,” which is not actually a form of flu at all, swine flu, and avian bird flu. Each type of virus is contracted by different means. For instance, a person can become infected with the swine flu without coming in contact with pigs at all while avian bird flu is typically spread from birds to human populations. However, swine flu symptoms, signs of bird flu, stomach “flu,” and influenza are very similar. Adults who experience severe nausea, vomiting and/or diarrhea usually have a form of stomach “flu,” also known as gastroenteritis. If you are unsure of your diagnosis and flu-like symptoms persist, it is important to visit a health care professional.

Additional Symptoms of Flu

Fluid in the ears and flu-like symptoms in addition to the ones mentioned above may also occur. In some cases, influenza can cause the hands to turn red or other unusual symptoms to occur. Again, if the flu symptoms you are experiencing seem unusual are persist longer than is typical in flu cases, it is a good idea to get a proper diagnosis with your doctor to rule out any underlying health conditions.

Flu Season

In the United States, millions of people suffer from the flu every year between November and April. When the “flu season” is in full swing, it is important to take extra precautions to prevent the symptoms of flu. Many people choose to take the flu shot as a preventative measure. In addition, you can decrease your chances of contracting infection by washing your hands regularly with soap and warm water and by avoiding touching surfaces that may be contaminated or washing your hands before touching your mouth, nose, or eyes. Boosting your immune system by taking better care of your health will also decrease your risk of infection.

If you have become infected with the influenza virus (the flu), you can expect more severe flu symptoms to last for at least 24 hours. Typically, symptoms of the flu last four or five days, but can last for a week or more. In many cases, fever, chills, achy muscles, extreme fatigue, sore throat, loss of appetite, and other symptoms of flu last for a week while other minor symptoms such as tiredness and a cough may continue for a week or two.

Duration of Flu Symptoms on Case-by Case Basis

The duration of flu symptoms will depend on how early you detect the illness, your state of health, age, and the treatment plan that you follow. Be seeking proper medical attention as soon as possible, you may be able to decrease the duration of flu symptoms with medication, plenty of fluids and rest.

It is also important to understand that flu symptoms in children, in the elderly, and in those with pre-existing conditions may cause further complications and varying symptoms. Young children and elderly individuals are at higher risk for complications with flu-like symptoms. It is a good idea to seek professional treatment and to have flu symptoms assessed by a doctor if signs of the flu persist. However, most cases do not require the assistance of a health care provider unless symptoms become severe or underlying conditions preexist.

More specifically, individuals with chronic lung, heart or kidney conditions or health issues that cause weakened immune systems may need medical attention when flu-like symptoms occur. The same is true for women who are more than three months pregnant, children between the ages of six months and two years, and individuals over 70.

General Flu Timeline

Early flu symptoms usually begin quickly. The first symptoms of flu in infants and children include fever between 102 and 106°F. Adults also tend to develop rapid fevers but at lower temperatures than in children. Other flu early symptoms that may come on quickly include body aches, low energy, chills, flushed face, headache, dizziness, and nausea.

New flu symptoms such as fever and body aches often diminish between 2-4 days. At this time, respiratory symptoms may increase including a sore throat, dry cough, runny nose (clear nasal discharge), and sneezing. These symptoms of flu usually fade in 4-7 days. Afterwards, you may feel a lack of energy, lack of appetite, and a persistent cough for a few weeks. In addition, if you have pre-existing conditions such as asthma or another long-term health problem, they may be exacerbated by flu symptoms and cause the illness to last longer.

How to Alleviate Flu and Symptoms

To decrease the duration of flu symptoms it is important to get lots of rest and to drink plenty of fluids. Avoid tobacco, alcohol and unhealthy foods. Over-the-counter medications can help to lower fever and may help in treating other symptoms such as a sore throat and runny nose. Since most people with flu-like symptoms tend to recover in about a week, antiviral medications are not usually necessary. Doctors may prescribe antiviral medication to individuals with more severe flu symptoms. Such medications work best when taken within two days from the time symptoms first occur.

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