Influenza, also known as the flu, is a viral infection that primarily affects your respiratory system. The illness strikes millions of Americans each year. It can be especially serious in newborns, people over the age of 65, and individuals dealing with certain chronic (long-lasting) illnesses.
Others who may be at more risk for developing flu complications include:
- People living in nursing homes or long-term care facilities
- Pregnant women and those who are two weeks postpartum (after birth)
- Native Americans
- Those considered medically obese
- Individuals with weak or compromised immune systems
- Those with heart disease, diabetes, liver disease, or kidney disease
Flu passes from person to person through the droplets expelled through actions like talking, sneezing, or coughing. It’s also possible to get the flu by coming into contact with a surface that still has live flu virus and then touching your eye, nose, or mouth.
Symptoms often experienced by those diagnosed with the flu include:
The annual flu vaccine doesn’t provide 100% immunity. Because different strains (versions) of the flu may appear each year, it’s recommended that individuals receive a new flu shot annually. If you do get the flu shot, you may experience side effects like swelling, redness, or soreness in the area where you received the injection.
Incubation for the flu is typically one to four days. People are most capable of spreading the virus during the first three to four days of their illness. That means you could pass the flu virus on to someone else even if you are showing no symptoms. People can spread the virus up to seven days after becoming ill. Young children, people with weaker immune systems, and certain other groups can remain contagious for even longer.
According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), individuals with the flu should stay home to avoid spreading the illness to others, going out only for medical care. They also recommend that those in high-risk groups seek medical care within two days of contracting the flu.
Remedies and Treatments for Flu
Your doctor will likely perform a physical exam and look for common signs of the flu. Various tests are available for diagnosing the illness. The doctor will likely base any treatment recommendations on the severity of your case and any aspects of your medical history that might lead to flu complications.
You may be asked to begin taking an antiviral drug to shorten the length of your illness and keep you from developing more severe complications. Some individuals may experience side effects like nausea and vomiting while taking medication. Taking medication with food can lessen some of the symptoms.
The most common antiviral medications for flu treatment include:
People with a mild case of the flu who don’t fall into a high-risk category typically recover with rest at home. Other at-home flu treatments that may ease your symptoms include:
- Fluid intake — Warm soups, water, and juice can keep you from becoming dehydrated.
- Rest — Sleep helps boost your immune system, making it more capable of fighting off infection.
- Pain relievers — Over-the-counter medications that contain acetaminophen or ibuprofen can help with any pain caused by the flu.
If you are a smoker, your doctor may recommend that you stop smoking at least until your illness resolves. The smoke may irritate your lungs and worsen the flu’s respiratory side effects.
The CDC recommends that adults avoid giving children and teenagers 18 years and younger aspirin or products with salicylate. Taking these products while infected with the flu could lead to a rare but serious medical condition called Reye’s syndrome.
The illness causes swelling in the liver and brain. Common signs of Reye’s syndrome include seizures, confusion, and loss of consciousness. Get your child immediate treatment if they show any of these signs.
When to See a Doctor
Most people recover from a bout of flu with at-home treatment. But you may want to see a doctor if you experience more severe complications.
In adults, those symptoms can include:
- Chest pains
- Problems breathing
- Dizziness that won’t go away
- Extreme fatigue
- Serious weakness
- Shortness of breath
Children may exhibit the following signs of severe flu complications:
- Bluish lips
- Difficulty breathing
- Serious muscle pain
- Chest pain
- Deterioration of other medical conditions