It's a good idea to call your doctor at the first signs of flu -- widespread body aches and a fever over 102 degrees F. Drugs called antivirals that you get from your doctor may shorten your illness, but you have to take them within 48 hours after symptoms start.
Open Up Your Stuffy Sinuses
Try these tips to clear things out:
- Breathe aromatic steam: Fill the bathroom or kitchen sink with steamy water. Drape a towel over your head and lean over the steam. You can add things to the water -- 2 teaspoons of chopped fresh ginger, a teaspoon of the over-the-counter (OTC) menthol ointment, or a few drops of eucalyptus oil.
- Take a warm shower: Run the water with the bathroom door closed to make your own personal sauna. The steamy air opens your head and chest while it moistens and thins the mucus in your sinuses.
- Get more liquids: Drink at least 8 cups (64 ounces) of liquid each day - it doesn’t all have to be water. Fluids help to thin out the thick mucus that builds up with this illness. Hot drinks may work better than cold. Avoid coffee, tea with caffeine, or alcohol. They can all dry you out.
- Use moist heat: If your head’s throbbing and it's hard to breathe through your nose, it may help to put a warm, moist compress on your cheeks and sinuses. Make sure it's not so hot that you could burn yourself.
- Try salt water sprays: A salty rinse for your nose can thin mucus, ease postnasal drip, and moisten dry membranes. It also helps remove virus particles and bacteria from your nose. You can get saline sprays at any drug or grocery store. They’re safe, they work, and they won’t bother your nose. They’re OK for kids to use, too. Spray the rinse into one nostril and then gently blow out. Repeat on the other side until no more mucus comes out.
- Try a decongestant spray: They give fast relief for a swollen, stuffy nose. They’re safe, but you need to stop using them after 3 days or they could cause more congestion.
Saline Rinse Tips
Try this recipe:
- Mix 1/4 teaspoon salt and 1/4 teaspoon baking soda in 8 ounces of warm water.
- Fill a bulb syringe with the water.
- Learn over the bathroom sink, hold one nostril closed with your finger and squirt the mixture into the other side. Let it drain and gently blow your nose.
- Repeat 2-3 times in each nostril.
You can also use a neti pot. It looks like a little teapot. You can find them at most pharmacies and natural food stores.
- Fill the pot with the solution packets or the homemade saline solution above.
- Lean over the bathroom sink, tilt your head to one side, and pour the water straight into one nostril.
- The solution will go into your nasal cavity and run out the other side of your nose and the back of your throat.
- Spit out the drainage, and gently blow to clear the passages.
Use distilled, sterile, or previously boiled water to make up the irrigation solution. Rinse the pot or other device after each use and leave it open to air dry.
One company that makes neti pots also offers a nasal rinse in a squeeze bottle.
Cough syrup : Try an over-the-counter product to calm your hack. You can select from a suppressant to calm it, an expectorant (guaifenesin) to help you cough up gunk, or a medicine you put on your skin, like a menthol rub for your chest. If you have asthma or other lung disease, don’t use a suppressant. Ask your doctor what you should pick. Don’t give over-the-counter cough and cold medicines to children under 4.
Cough drops: Keep sugar-free cough drops or hard candy nearby to calm a tickle in your throat. A teaspoon of honey might also help.
Scratchy Throat and Congestion
Sip some soup: If it's hard to swallow without pain, try hot chicken soup. Add pepper, garlic, curry powder, or other pungent spices to thin mucus in your mouth, throat, and lungs. It can pump up the number of disease-fighting white blood cells in your immune system.
Spice up your meal: Garlic also jazzes up your immune system and may ease head congestion. Ginger helps you make more mucus and a protein called interferon that fights viral infections. Chili peppers are a great source of capsaicin, an antioxidant that also can unstuff your head and help you get the gunk out. Horseradish can open up a stuffy noggin, too.
Try an expectorant: You want to keep mucus thin so it doesn't pool in your head and give bacteria a place to breed. If that happens, your chances of getting a sinus infection go way up. Try an over-the-counter product that has guaifenesin.
Fever and Muscle Aches
Try an OTC analgesic : Fever is how your body fights a viral infection. Acetaminophen, aspirin, ibuprofen, and naproxen can lower your temperature and ease muscle aches. Follow the dosage info on the label. Never give aspirin to a child unless your doctor says it's OK.
Drink more fluids: It’s easy to get dried out when you’re fighting the flu. Drink lots of liquids like water, clear soups, broth, or electrolyte replacement drinks until the fever resolves.
Stay in bed and rest: It boosts your immune function and gives your body time to heal.
Nighttime Congestion That Keeps You Awake
Moisten the air: A warm mist humidifier or vaporizer can ease a blocked head and chest. Do not use warm mist and make sure to clean it with a bleach solution every few days to prevent the growth of bacteria and molds.
Use nasal strips: When you place one over the lower one-third (fleshy) part of your nose, a plastic strip underneath springs out to open your nose and make it easier to breathe. You can also use a thin piece of surgical tape. Apply one end to the tip of your nose, lift, and fasten the other end to the top of your nose.
Raise your head: Prop your head up with pillows while you sleep.
Take it easy when you have the flu. Get plenty of rest, stay hydrated, and do what you can to feel better. If your symptoms don't get better in a few weeks or seem to be getting worse, call your doctor.