Uh oh, you sneezed. And now you can’t stop. You were doing so well getting through flu season until today. But, worst case scenario, if it is what’s been going around and not a common cold, how long does the flu last?
Getting sick, well, sucks. But it’s a little better when you know what to expect: is it going to linger like the runny nose colds give you, or make you sleep for three days straight before bounding out of bed, suddenly restored? We break it down for you here. Either way, go ahead and stock up some tissues, cough drops and chicken soup — you’re going to need them whether it really is the flu or just a common cold.
How to tell if you have the flu
One of the worst parts of the flu is that it will feel like you’ve come down with it immediately, even though you’ll typically get hit with symptoms one to four days after exposure to the virus. “Classic flu feels like you’ve been hit by a truck because it's abrupt onset," Joshua Schaffzin, pediatric infectious diseases physician and director of infection, prevention and control at Cincinnati Children’s Hospital, told ABC News. That means those hard-to-miss symptoms like “high fever, cough, sore throat and all over body aches” that leave you wondering how you got so sick so fast.
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If you’re a parent looking at your kid, it’s often easy to see when it’s something serious like the flu. "It’s very striking for parents because their kid is running around and all of a sudden they don’t want to get out of bed,” Schaffzin explains.
But as an adult you should see the doctor if you have symptoms beyond the sore throat and cough, especially those body aches that can make it hard to move or a high fever. The doctor can take a swab to confirm if it’s actually the flu and — if you’ve caught it in time — prescribe you Tamiflu to cut short the duration of the illness.
How long does the flu last?
So how long does the flu last anyway? (And, to be clear, we’re talking here about how long does the flu last in adults.) Well, that depends on whether you got Tamiflu in time or not. (See again the importance of going to the doctor if you’re not feeling well.)
Generally flu symptoms last five to seven days, but can last for up to one to two weeks. The worst of the symptoms that leave you napping in bed all day tend to run for only two to three days before subsiding. But that doesn’t mean you’ll feel ready to take on the world as soon as those are gone. Lingering, nagging symptoms like weakness, dry cough and fatigue can last an additional three to seven days after everything else has cleared. So ease back into your gym routine gently, will you?
How long does the flu last with Tamiflu?
What about if you managed to get to the doctor and you were treated with Tamiflu? How long does the flu last then? As long as you managed to do this within the first 48 hours of your symptoms appearing, treatment with Tamiflu can shave about a day off of your flu symptoms researchers find. That might not sound like a lot, but when it comes to actually laying in bed with chills and body aches, you’ll be grateful for the 24-hour reprieve.
Your doctor may choose not to prescribe Tamiflu, however, since they might prefer to give it to high-risk individuals: those with immune systems that don’t work optimally. Keep in mind also that if you get to the doctor outside this 48-hour window, the medicine isn’t able to have the same effect and, depending on your insurance, it will set you back anywhere from $75 to $150.
How long does the flu last in toddlers?
Asking how long does the flu last in adults is a very different matter from how long does the flu last in toddlers. Toddlers and small children are more susceptible to the flu — but eligible for a flu shot as long as they’re older than 6 months.
While an adult can have the flu for only five to seven days, the worst of it subsiding after three or so days, a toddler can be out of commission for seven to 14 days if they catch the virus. Toddlers are also more likely to feel uncomfortable and achy while they have the flu, so if yours hasn’t gotten a flu shot yet this year, they should see a doctor to get the flu vaccine soon. There’s still time.
And no matter who comes down with the flu in your household, make sure they stay home from their typical daily activities whether that’s work, school, or social gatherings. It turns out that you can spread the flu simply by breathing, so everyone will thank you for staying home and resting — and your body could use the break, too.