What to Do When You Have the Flu

photo credit: 
rlhyde on flickr

We all dread those telltale symptoms that tell us our body is under attack from unseen invaders. The fever, the coughing and a nose that resembles Niagara Falls in its relentless running, are all signs that you probably have been caught by the flu.

How do you identify the flu? Is there really anything we can do to make us feel better and lessen the time we spend being miserable? Read on.

Is it really the flu or just a cold?
If you can remember the last time you came down with the flu, you'll agree that there is no mistaking the suffering once your symptoms are full blown. But how can you tell what is going on in your body in the beginning stages?

Colds, although uncomfortable, generally aren't accompanied by a fever, muscle aches or chills. So, if you don't have any of those advanced symptoms, chances are you are flu-free--for the moment, anyway.

With three types of seasonal viruses and more than 200 types of colds, the good news is that your coughs and sniffles are more likely to be caused by the common cold. However, the getting the flu is a much more serious event.

Someone who is at high risk for complications--the very young, the very old or those with other medical conditions such as Asthma--should contact their health care provider as soon as symptoms appear.

Treating the flu
Unfortunately, once you have the flu, you mostly just have to let it run its course and take the age-old advice grandmothers all over the country have been teaching. Drink lots of fluid and get plenty of rest. Warm liquids, such as chicken soup, can be very soothing to the throat.

Acetaminophen (Tylenol) or ibrupofen (Advil) work well for fever and muscle aches. Children and teenagers should not take aspirin with a fever, as it could lead to Ryes syndrome, a dangerous and often fatal illness. Over-the-counter decongestants, expectorants and cough suppressants can often ease symptoms and make the flu easier to live with while you wait for it to pass through your system.

Your health care provider may be able to prescribe one of the recently available flu drugs that are said to lessen the length of your illness. These medicines are generally most effective if taken early.

Make sure to call your health care provider if you are sick for more than a week or if you develop any of the following symptoms:

  • Difficulty breathing
  • A thick yellow mucus or discharge that is choking or mucus that contains blood
  • High fever
  • Facial pain

Prevention is the best medicine
The best way to prevent the flu or lessen its effects is to get a flu shot some time between September and the end of November, before the flu season starts. Because the three different strains of flu change from year to year, it is necessary to get a new shot each year. The flu shot isn't recommended for everyone, especially if you are pregnant or nursing, so be sure to check with your health care provider before you get the shot.

The next best way to avoid getting the flu (or even a cold) is to wash your hands frequently and keep them away from your face. If you do this, flu germs that you might have picked up from a doorknob or shaking someone's hand won't get transferred to you through your eyes, nose or mouth. Avoid sharing cups, pencils, telephones, etc with flu sufferers.

© 1999-2017 Mary Ann Carrado, used by permission.