How To Outsmart The Flu And What To Do If The Flu Finds You Anyway
By Beverly Matoney Medically reviewed by Kyle Aldinger, MD Shelby Medical Associates
The best way to avoid the flu is to hide away until flu season is over, right? While that may be true, it’s not always practical. Here are a few things you can do to sidestep the influenza virus this year.
Ways To Reduce Your Risk Of Getting The Flu
Get your flu shot
Increase your chances of staying healthy by getting an annual flu shot. You can get the shot any time before or during flu season, from September through early spring. While the flu shot isn’t a guarantee that you won’t get the flu, it can help reduce the length and severity of your symptoms if you do come down with the influenza virus.
Although you can get the flu shot in a variety of locations, if you have other ongoing health problems, it is recommended that you get the shot in your doctor’s office.
They will know your medical history and can provide the flu shot that is best for your individual needs and to avoid any potential allergic reactions.
Wash your hands often and well
By scrubbing your hands well with warm soapy water then drying them with paper towels, you can greatly reduce the bacteria and viruses you’ve picked up from your surroundings.
Flu viruses can survive on surfaces for up to three hours, so be aware of what you’re touching.
Keep your hands away from your face
If you aren’t able to wash your hands right away while you’re out and about, at least keep them away from your eyes, nose, and mouth. Bacteria and viruses from your hands can enter your body through these areas so it’s best to avoid touching your face until you can find a sink.
Use hand sanitizer
When you don’t have access to soap and water, alcohol-based hand sanitizer will work. Briskly rub in the gel for 15 seconds and try to cover all the surfaces of your hands to eliminate as many bacteria and viruses as possible. And while hand sanitizer works, it’s still a good idea to wash your hands as soon as you can.
Eat healthy foods
A healthy diet will boost your immune system, helping you ward off any infectious attacks. Eat a good variety of healthy foods, including lean meats, fresh fruits and vegetables (wash them first!) and steer clear of processed foods. Citrus fruits, strawberries, broccoli, carrots, and avocado are rich in vitamins A, C, and E, which are all important to a strong immune system.
Get plenty of uninterrupted sleep
A study published in Science Daily showed that poor sleep can lead to lowered immune system function. Be sure to get enough shut-eye so you can fight off the flu virus if you are exposed.
Steer clear of anyone who is obviously sick
It’s not always possible to avoid someone who is sneezing or coughing, especially in large areas such as conference rooms, grocery stores, or waiting rooms. When you know someone is ill, or you suspect they may be coming down with the flu, avoid direct contact with them if you can. And keep hand wipes or sanitizer around just in case you can’t.
Wipe down surfaces
Flu viruses can live on surfaces for up to three hours. To keep influenza at bay, take time to wipe down surfaces such as countertops, door handles, light switches, and TV remotes. Disinfectant wipes are handy for this, so keep plenty on hand for flu season.
Wear proper attire
Although wearing warm clothing in the winter can’t prevent the flu, it can help keep your immune system working well. Exposure to cold can lower your immune response enough to let those flu viruses get a foothold.
And try to wear gloves as much as you can when you’re out and about so you have a layer of protection between your hands and those germy surfaces, such as elevator buttons, gas pump handles, door knobs, and grocery carts.
Regular exercise boosts your immune system which can give you an added defense against influenza. Just thirty minutes of moderate exercise per day, all at once, or broken into three 10 minute sessions, can help your body keep your immune system in “fighting shape” to ward off infection. Try walking, swimming, light aerobics, or dancing.
Catch some rays
The vitamin D your body produces is increased by exposure to sunlight and is a great boost to your immune system. Take your activity outside, weather permitting, and catch a few rays, but be smart about wearing sunscreen if you’ll be out longer than 15 minutes.
Another way to keep your immune system working is to manage your stress levels. Higher stress can weaken immunity and lower your defenses against the flu. Talk it out, walk it out, squeeze a stress ball, or try yoga or meditation to reduce your stress levels.
Along with plenty of risks to your heart and lungs, smoking also reduces your immunity, making you more susceptible to flu viruses. Kick the habit to increase your chances of staying well during flu season.
You Did Everything You Could To Avoid The Flu, But…
Oh, no. You’re starting to feel a little achy. Here come the fever and chills, the congestion and coughing, and the pounding headache. As hard as you tried to stay well, you caught the flu anyway. What now?
The earlier you can get to your doctor after the first symptoms (within 48 hours,) the more effective the treatment for influenza. But how do you know for sure if you have the flu? And what can you do to ease your discomfort while you recover? Read on to find out more about symptoms, treatments and how to get through a bout with the flu.
The symptoms of influenza show up pretty quickly after you’ve been exposed, usually within 24 hours.
Vomiting/Diarrhea (most common in kids, but adults can have these also)
When you come into the office to be checked for influenza, your doctor will perform a swab and send it to our lab. Your results should be back in about thirty minutes, and we can prescribe a treatment at that time if you do indeed have the flu.
An effective treatment available is an antiviral called Tamiflu (Oseltamivir) When you receive this treatment within 48 hours of the onset of your flu symptoms, this medicine can reduce the severity of your symptoms and length of your illness. Tamiflu can also help lower your chances of experiencing complications from the flu, such as pneumonia.
If you aren’t able to see the doctor within the recommended 48 hours, you can still take Tamiflu to help lessen the discomfort brought on by the flu. And taking this antiviral is highly encouraged especially if you are over 65 or have a chronic condition.
How long does the flu last? When should I be concerned?
Flu symptoms can disappear as quickly as three days or hang around for up to two weeks. Even if your worst symptoms subside within a few days, you may still experience a lingering cough or scratchy throat. By the fourth day, your fever should have disappeared, and within a week, you should be feeling well enough to be up and about.
If your symptoms are still with you after two weeks, see your doctor. A cough that brings up mucus, a high fever that shows up after you’re feeling better, or an earache can all point to a secondary infection and should be treated right away.
Grandma’s remedy won’t cure the flu, but it can certainly make you feel better. The salt in the soup can soothe your sore throat and the liquid will keep you hydrated. Cystine, an amino acid released when the chicken is cooked, helps thin mucus and calm coughs. The warm broth can help clear nasal congestion, and the tryptophan in the chicken will help you relax and maybe even get some much-needed sleep.
Home Treatments To Help You Feel More Comfortable
Warm Bath/Epsom Salt
A warm bath with Epsom salt can help relieve your aches and pains.
Steam with eucalyptus
Inhale steam to relieve congestion. Add a few drops of eucalyptus oil to a bowl of hot water or to your bath and inhale the steam. You can use the oil in your shower by placing the drops on a wet washcloth which will release the oil as it warms up.
Tea with honey and lemon
Stay hydrated with tea and soothe your throat at the same time by adding a spoonful of honey and a few drops of lemon juice.
You can find plenty of throat drops on the market that will relieve your scratchy throat and lessen your cough.
The menthol found in chest rubs can help relieve congestion and coughing.
Pain medications for aches and fever
Take your usual pain medication to help with the aches and fever associated with the flu.
Are You Sure It’s The Flu?
Sometimes even a cold can make you feel as if you’re down for the count. Here’s a list of cold symptoms to check against what you’re feeling.
Itchy, Watery Eyes
Fever (most often in kids)
There are some noticeable differences in symptoms between cold viruses and influenza so you can be reasonably sure which one has you feeling bad.
Differences between colds and influenza
Time for symptoms to show One to three days, coming on slowly Within 24 hours of exposure, appearing rapidly
Severity Can be mild Usually more severe
Overall feeling Can function somewhat normally Sidelined for days in bed
Duration Lasts about a week Can last up to two weeks
Treatment No proven treatment available Antiviral treatment to lessen symptoms
Dangers of complications Low, but possible Higher, especially in people with chronic conditions
If you believe you have the flu, contact our office within 48 hours so we can evaluate your symptoms and begin treatment to lessen the effects and duration.
Don’t ignore the flu!
Influenza can lead to all sorts of complications including
If you’re not taking in enough fluids while you’re ill with the flu, you could become dehydrated. Be sure to drink plenty of water or sports drinks, and have soups and tea to help replace fluids lost through fever and coughs or a runny nose.
Sometimes nausea caused by the flu can make it difficult to drink large amounts of fluid at one time. If this happens to you, then try small amounts, say 2-3 ounces at a time, every 15-20 minutes.
Bronchitis or Ear/Sinus Infection
Your body is weakened by a bout with the flu, leaving it open for a secondary infection. If you experience a high fever after you’ve been feeling better, or you have a cough that won’t go away, see your doctor to check for and treat other infections you may have.
The influenza virus can lead to viral pneumonia or a post-viral bacterial pneumonia. Pneumonia is very dangerous for older or very young patients, or those with chronic conditions, and can even lead to death.
If your flu symptoms worsen and you have difficulty breathing, a high fever (102.0 or higher), pain in your chest or decreased blood pressure, see your doctor right away for diagnosis and treatment.
Complications with chronic conditions
All of these complications from influenza are even more dangerous if you have a chronic condition. Dehydration, bronchitis or other secondary infection and especially pneumonia can cause serious problems or even death if you have a chronic illness such as congestive heart failure, hypertension or diabetes.’
Don’t let influenza sideline you. Practice preventative measures to avoid the virus altogether. If you do happen to become ill, see your doctor as soon as your symptoms appear for early treatment. Follow the best practices for recovery including drinking plenty of fluids, getting lots of rest, and using home treatments to ease your symptoms.
Be aware of possible complications and please don’t hesitate to call us if you suspect you have the flu or worsening symptoms that could indicate a secondary infection. We’re here to help you through flu season and throughout the year.
Take care of you. Take care of yours. We’ll be here to help you with both.