If the flu comes to call this season, send nasty symptoms packing quicker with tricks recommended by medical professionals.
The flu is a contagious respiratory illness caused by influenza viruses that may cause mild to severe illness. For vulnerable populations including older adults, pregnant women and young children, the flu can be life-threatening.
Flu symptoms include:
- Fever of 100 degrees or higher, or feeling feverish/chills (though not everyone with the flu has a fever).
- Sore throat.
- Runny or stuffy nose.
- Muscle or body aches.
- Nausea, vomiting or diarrhea – more common in children than adults.
To avoid catching the flu, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) recommends a yearly flu vaccine for everyone 6 months and older. Ideally, you should get your flu shot during the fall; however, it’s not too late to be vaccinated. It takes about two weeks after vaccination for protection to set in.
To avoid giving the flu to others, practice good hand hygiene, stay home when you are sick, cough or sneeze into tissues and discard them properly, and wash your hands frequently with soap and water or use an approved hand sanitizer if soap and water are not available.
If you think you have the flu, Erica English, a physician assistant with Novant Health UVA Health System Express Care in Marshall, Virginia, offered suggestions on what treatments work – and what doesn’t.
“Most frequently, I have patients asking for antibiotics, and a lot of times I have to explain it’s a viral infection and not a bacterial infection,” English said. “The flu can last seven to 10 days.” Antibiotics are not recommended as treatment for the flu.
- Analgesics such as ibuprofen and acetaminophen can help reduce fever and alleviate aches and pain. These products are sold over-the-counter under brand names such as Tylenol, Motrin and Advil. People who have high blood pressure, asthma or other chronic conditions should check with their doctor before taking these drugs. “Normally I do not recommend ibuprofen — Motrin or Advil — for those with high blood pressure, as it can increase cardiovascular events,” English said. “For these patients, I usually recommend Tylenol.”
- Over-the-counter drugs such as decongestants and antihistamines can help with congestion, runny noses and cough. Again, if you have high blood pressure, you should consult a doctor before taking an antihistamine. Antihistamines do help with sleep. “Patients with blood pressure issues may use Coricidin,” English noted.
- Cough drops and hard candy are good for soothing sore throats, but shouldn’t be given to toddlers and young children because of possible choking hazards. Likewise, gargling with warm salt water can help a sore throat. “Robitussin, Delsym or warm tea and with honey are recommended,” English said. “For children, recent studies have shown that pasteurized honey is comparable to cough medicine.”
- Neti pots, nasal saline rinses and Mucinex may help clear nasal symptoms. “Nasal inhalers called Atrovent also can help,” English said. Afrin nasal spray is available over the counter, but taking it more than three days is not recommended as doing so may cause rebound inflammation, she added.
- Dehydration is a very real risk for people who have fever and are ill, so make sure you drink plenty of fluids, including water, clear broth, nonacidic fruit juice such as apple juice or grape juice or an herbal tea with honey. Try to drink at least 8 ounces every two hours. If your child won’t drink fluids, try giving them an ice pop. “Get some liquids in — ice pops or smoothies,” English said.
- Along with your daily multivitamin, you may wish to take additional zinc, vitamin C and vitamin D to boost immunity and B vitamins to help fight fatigue and weakness.
- Because the flu is viral, it is not treated with antibiotics. “Avoid antibiotics or sharing family members’ antibiotics,” English said.
- Stay home and rest. The CDC recommends that you stay home for at least 24 hours after your fever is gone – except to get medical care or other necessities.
- For patients with severe flu or at higher risk for developing complications from the flu, antiviral drugs such as Tamiflu can shorten the duration and severity of the flu when taken within the first two days that symptoms appear. This is a medication that your provider would prescribe for you if indicated.
- Cold remedies for kids: The Food and Drug Administration says not give any over-the-counter cold, flu or cough medication to children younger than 2 years old.
- If you exhibit any of the emergency symptoms, head to your local emergency room.
With rest and proper support of your immune system, you can ease flu symptoms and help your body recover more quickly.
When it comes to any illness, prevention is key. Wash your hands frequently, use alcohol-based hand sanitizer when you’re unable to wash your hands, and disinfect frequently touched surfaces.
It’s not too late to get your flu shot. To find a convenient Novant Health UVA Health System Express Care or urgent care location near you, visit https://www.novanthealthuva.org/noflu.
If you live in North Carolina, visit noflu.org for a list of clinic locations in your area.