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Flu (Influenza): Teen Version

What is influenza?

Influenza (flu) is a viral infection of the nose, throat, windpipe, and bronchi that occurs every winter. The main symptoms are a runny nose, sore throat, and nagging cough. Usually there’s more muscle pain, headache, fever, and chills than colds usually cause.

What causes the flu?

Flu is caused by influenza viruses. Flu viruses change yearly, which is why people can get the flu every year. The virus is spread by sneezing, coughing, and hand contact. It spreads rapidly because the incubation period is only 24 to 36 hours and the virus is very contagious. Thus, the spread of flu is very difficult to prevent.

How can I take care of myself?

The treatment of influenza depends on your main symptoms and is no different from the treatment for other viral respiratory infections.

  • Fever or aches: Take acetaminophen (Tylenol) every 6 hours or ibuprofen (Advil) every 8 hours for discomfort or fever over 102°F (39°C). Do not take aspirin because it may cause Reye's syndrome.
  • Cough or hoarseness: Use cough drops.
  • Sore throat: Suck on hard candy. Warm chicken broth may also help.

    Stuffy or blocked nose: Saline (salt water) nose drops or spray followed by suction (or nose blowing) will open most blocked noses. Use nasal saline at least 4 times a day or whenever you can't breathe through the nose. You can buy saline nose drops or spray without a prescription.

  • Fluids. Make sure you drink adequate fluids to prevent dehydration.
  • Antiviral medicines: These medicines are recommended for teens with chronic disease who are at high risk for complications, not for healthy teens.

How long will the flu last?

The fever lasts 2 to 3 days, the runny or stuffy nose 1 to 2 weeks, and the cough 2 to 3 weeks.

How can I prevent influenza?

All teens can benefit by getting the flu vaccine. Those with chronic diseases (for example, asthma) especially need to come in for yearly influenza boosters. Pregnant teens also are at high risk for complications from the flu and need to be protected by the vaccine. Anyone who wants to reduce their chances of getting the flu should get the flu shot. A new flu shot is needed every year because flu viruses keep changing. Talk with your healthcare provider or parents about flu shots.

When should I call my healthcare provider?

Call during office hours if:

  • You develop any complications such as an earache, sinus pain or pressure, or a fever lasting over 3 days.
  • You have other questions or concerns.
Written by Barton D. Schmitt, MD, author of “My Child Is Sick,” American Academy of Pediatrics Books.
Pediatric Advisor 2019.4 published by Change Healthcare.
Last modified: 2017-10-26
Last reviewed: 2018-07-13
This content is reviewed periodically and is subject to change as new health information becomes available. The information is intended to inform and educate and is not a replacement for medical evaluation, advice, diagnosis or treatment by a healthcare professional.
Copyright ©1986-2018 Barton D. Schmitt, MD FAAP. All rights reserved.
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