Tips for Coping With Flu Symptoms
It starts as a sore throat and quickly progresses to chills, a fever and body aches. You have the flu. What should you do?
“Often flu symptoms do not require medical attention or prescription medication,” says Northwestern Medicine Family Medicine Physician Marie Altimari, MD. “The best thing you can do is stay home to rest and avoid spreading influenza to others. Contact your primary care physician if you have questions or concerns about the flu.”
Here are Dr. Altimari’s tips for defeating the flu:
1. Stay home and away from others.
“You should stay home for 24 hours after your fever stops, but you may still be contagious one to two weeks after this point,” says Dr. Altimari. “That’s why personal hygiene precautions, like covering your mouth when you cough or sneeze, and washing your hands, are so important during flu season.”
Keep your distance from others while you are sick. Avoid touching your eyes, nose and mouth to minimize the spread of the virus. Do not prepare food for others if you are sick.
2. Hydrate and humidify.
When your body detects the influenza virus, it prepares to fight with an inflammatory immune response. The battle between your immune system and the flu is what causes the most common symptoms: Fever, headache and body aches. It also causes dehydration, which can exacerbate symptoms.
“Staying hydrated will not only help alleviate symptoms, but will also help your body fight the virus itself,” says Dr. Altimari. “Beyond water, hydrate with soup, citrus fruits and electrolyte drinks.”
Using a humidifier or taking steamy showers will also help with the upper respiratory congestion.
3. Catch some zzzs.
Sleep helps your body replenish its antibodies, or the “soldiers” of the immune system actively fighting the virus. That’s why it’s important to get a lot of it. “Sleep equals relief,” adds Dr. Altimari.
4. Eat well (and avoid alcohol).
You may crave junk food when you’re feeling under the weather, but to feel better in the long run, opt for foods rich in vitamins and minerals.
“Alcohol decreases the quality of your sleep, which is why it’s best to avoid it when you’re sick,” says Dr. Altimari.
5. Try over-the-counter relief.
“Since the flu is caused by a virus, antibiotics are not effective treatment,” says Dr. Altimari. “Over-the-counter medications may help with the mild to moderate symptoms of the flu, including fever, congestion, cough and sore throat.”
Ibuprofen can help treat fever and aches. Pseudoephedrine can help with congestion. If over-the-counter options do not work, consult your physician about antiviral prescription medications.
6. Know when to seek care.
At-risk populations should seek emergency medical care for influenza if they have any of the following symptoms:
- Difficulty breathing
- Bluish or gray skin color
- Pain or tightness in the chest or abdomen
- Inability to take or keep down fluids
- Severe or persistent vomiting
- Lethargy or confusion
- Extreme irritability
- Flu-like symptoms that improve and then return with fever and more severe cough
7. Get the flu shot.
“Don’t give the flu a fighting chance. Get the flu shot,” says Dr. Altimari. “You can get your vaccination starting in October.”