Flu season is upon us! If you haven’t already, reach out to your primary care physician or local pharmacy and schedule an appointment to receive the flu vaccine. While it won’t prevent you from catching the flu, it will help to lessen your symptoms and make the illness more manageable. Up to 20 percent of individuals in the United States catch the flu each year, so the more prepared you are, the better!
It’s no secret that the flu is highly contagious.
Caused by the influenza virus, it spreads through tiny particles or droplets that are coughed or sneezed by an infected person. It can also spread from direct contact with mucus or spit from someone who has the flu — for instance, helping your child wipe their nose or taking a sip of your spouse’s water bottle.
Unfortunately, the flu can spread before symptoms even begin. The virus is contagious approximately one to three days prior to symptoms and up to five to seven days after you get sick. That’s why it’s so difficult to avoid this illness! You may be in close contact with a friend who is infected but asymptomatic.
In particular, young children tend to get sick more easily. They spend time together in close spaces and often share things like crayons, pencils, and other classroom supplies. They may wipe their nose or suck on their fingers and then reach for a friend’s hand or share a toy.
Symptoms of the flu are similar to other respiratory infections.
To know the difference between the flu and a common cold, pay attention to the following signs:
- Sudden high fevers (above 100.4 degrees)
- Body aches or chills
- Sore throat
- Feeling exhausted
- Stuffy nose
- Dry, hacking cough
- Stomach pain, including diarrhea and/or vomiting
Typically, the first three days of symptoms are the worst. After the first day, physical symptoms often disappear, but respiratory symptoms become more noticeable. Healthy individuals tend to get better in about a week.
To feel better after a flu diagnosis, there are a number of things you can do at home.
To start, get plenty of rest! This downtime allows your body to heal from this respiratory infection. Be sure to drink lots of fluids too. You can also take acetaminophen or ibuprofen to manage fevers, headaches, and body aches. Additionally, if you’re struggling with a stuffy nose, try nasal washes and/or saline solution nasal spray to help you breathe easier.
While patients generally recover from the flu, some individuals are at higher risk for complications. Common complications include a sinus infection, ear infection, asthma flare-up, and pneumonia.
If you or your loved one has chronic health conditions like lung or heart disease, a compromised immune system, cancer, or diabetes, it’s important to be very careful. They should be vaccinated and do their best to avoid others with flu-like symptoms. Fortunately, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), the flu vaccine decreases the risk of additional problems.
If you suspect a complication from the flu, pay close attention to the following symptoms:
- Chest pain
- Trouble breathing: Children typically breath easily and shallowly. If they are struggling, the lower chest and upper stomach goes deeper with each breath. They may also make a high-pitched noise (wheeze) or grunt when exhaling.
- Stop breathing
- Intense muscle aches
- Fever higher than 104 degrees (or higher than 100.9 degrees in infants younger than three months)
- Signs of dehydration
- Ear pain
Additionally, if symptoms persist for longer than a week, chances are, a secondary infection or complication has developed. Visit your primary care physician to determine the best course of treatment for full recovery!