Flu or Flu-like illness in chronically ill or disabled children

Complications of flu or flu-like illness

Children can develop complications from flu or flu-like illness including bacterial chest infections and middle ear infection. Children with a long term medical condition or disability can be more at risk of complications from flu or flu-like illness and their long term medical condition may also be affected. They can become seriously ill and hospital treatment may be needed.

Chest infection/bronchitis

Children with asthma and chronic lung disease already have a weakened chest and lungs. Flu or flu-like illness can make them more vulnerable to developing chest infections and bronchitis. Kwame frequently has chest infections if he has flu or flu-like illness and when he was four, he developed pneumonia. Adam’s son used to develop chest infections when he had flu or flu-like illness but they have become less frequent as he has got older. The last time he needed to go to hospital because of a chest infection was when he was four years old.
Sometimes chest infections can worsen and develop into pneumonia. When Henry was four years old, he had a chest infection which developed rapidly into pneumonia and he spent a couple of days in hospital.
Ear infection

Ear infection is another possible complication. Symptoms may include earaches and thick, yellow fluid coming from the ears. Lyndey explained that her children sometimes get ‘agonising earache’ after flu-like illness which stops them from sleeping. Eliza often develops an ear infection when she has flu-like illness. She gets antibiotic ear drops from the doctors if her ear has become infected and starts to smell.
Effect on long term medical condition or disability

Some parents we interviewed said that their child’s long term medical condition or disability was also affected and as well as recovering from the flu or flu-like illness, their body was coping with additional symptoms. Jack developed shingles because his immune system was so compromised following flu-like illness.

For children who had asthma, flu or flu-like illness could lead to a worsening of their asthma symptoms and sometimes an asthma attack. Sharon said that a viral or flu-like illness was the only time that Henry had an asthma attack.
For some children with a long term medical condition or disability, flu-like illness had to be managed very carefully because further complications could make them seriously ill. Loss of appetite could lead to a particular problem for children with Type 1 diabetes who need to eat when they take insulin. With high levels of ketones in the blood, diabetic ketoacidosis could develop, which can be life-threatening. Louise explained she needs to keep her sons blood glucose levels low when he has flu or flu-like illness otherwise, “the body is battling two different things. It’s battling the highs and potentially going into diabetic ketoacidosis, and at the same time has a virus.”
Ella is immunocompromised and gets flu or flu-like illness frequently. When she develops flu-like symptoms she usually needs to go to hospital to be checked and to have antibiotics because if she doesn’t drink enough fluids this could have a severe effect on her kidney condition. 


Please use the form below to tell us what you think of the site. We’d love to hear about how we’ve helped you, how we could improve or if you have found something that’s broken on the site. We are a small team but will try to reply as quickly as possible.

Please note that we are unable to accept article submissions or offer medical advice. If you are affected by any of the issues covered on this website and need to talk to someone in confidence, please contact The Samaritans or your Doctor.

Make a Donation to healthtalk.org

Find out more about how you can help us.

Send to a friend

Simply fill out this form and we'll send them an email