Every year, millions of people in the U.S. get the flu (short for influenza). But this year, the flu season – from October through spring – is shaping up to be particularly severe. Twice as many people are reporting flu-like symptoms to their doctors than last year, hospitalizations have doubled and 25 people have died in Indiana – and it's only January!
Getting the flu vaccine, washing your hands frequently and not touching your face are the best ways to prevent the flu. But what if you come down with the flu, despite these efforts? Here, we answer questions about the early signs of sickness and what you can do to recover more quickly.
Many flu symptoms overlap with those of the common cold. However, there are some key differences, such as:
You also may experience a cough, sore throat, or a runny or stuffy nose. Vomiting and diarrhea are possible with the flu, too, although this is more common in children than adults.
If you feel sick, it's important to stay home to prevent spreading it to others. Try to make yourself as comfortable as possible so you can get the rest you need to recover. A heating pad can provide relief for achy muscles, and a vapor rub may help you breathe better if you have sinus or chest congestion.
You also can help your body flush out the virus by staying hydrated. Sip water, tea, soup and hot water with lemon and honey, all of which can soothe a sore throat. If you feel up to eating, make sure you choose light and healthy foods like fruits, vegetables and lean protein that supply vitamins and nutrients your body needs to fight the flu virus.
For most people, rest is the best remedy. However, doctors may recommend antiviral medication to people at high risk of flu complications, including young children, people 65 and older, pregnant women and people with certain medical conditions. Antiviral medication is most effective if taken within 48 hours of first experiencing symptoms.
While some natural remedies show promising results for the prevention and treatment of the common cold, there is no scientific evidence that any natural remedy is effective against the flu. However, it's always a good idea to increase your intake of nutrient-rich foods and take a quality multivitamin that contains important immune-boosting vitamins, such as B6, C, D3 and E.
Flu symptoms can last a few days to more than a week. It's safe to return to work or school when you're feeling better and haven't had a fever for at least 24 hours.
However, some people do develop complications such as pneumonia, bronchitis, and sinus and ear infections as a result of the flu. If your symptoms become severe – difficulty breathing, sudden dizziness, pain or pressure in your chest or abdomen, or constant vomiting – seek medical care from your doctor or an urgent care center.