What is the Flu?
Commonly referred to as the “flu,” influenza is a respiratory disease which appears most frequently in the late fall and winter months. Extremely contagious, the virus spreads throughout the respiratory tract and can result in symptoms ranging from mild to severe—influenza leads to as many as 56,000 deaths each year in the United States. Most people who come down with a case of the flu are infected by either influenza A or influenza B, both of which are common strains of the virus.
How Are Coughs and Colds Different From the Flu?
It’s not uncommon for coughs and colds to be mistaken for the flu, and vice versa. Both are the result of viral infection, and symptoms of each can be similar to one another. Flu symptoms tend to be far worse than those of a cold, however, often making it a challenge to simply get out of bed. Many people find that the flu comes on quickly and can feel like “getting hit by a truck,” whereas cold symptoms typically manifest more gradually.
The flu can also cause severe headaches and high fevers—two symptoms rarely associated with the common cold.
Symptoms of the Flu
Flu symptoms can come on at any time and tend to affect children and the elderly most severely. Everyone experiences influenza differently—while some cases may be mild enough to not disrupt daily life, others can lead to hospitalization.
Here are just a handful of symptoms commonly associated with influenza A and B:
- Muscle and Joint Aches
- Dry Cough
- Pain/Discomfort Around the Eyes
- Sore Throat
- Gastrointestinal (GI) Distress
- Vomiting (Most Common in Children)
Severe Symptoms Requiring Immediate Medical Attention:
- Difficulty Breathing or Swallowing
- Persistent Vomiting
- Chest Pain
- Fever Above 102 F
Treating the Flu
While the common cold typically lasts for approximately three days, influenza may lead to illness lasting for one week or longer. Antibiotics do not work to treat the flu, but there are a number of ways to help reduce symptom severity until the virus has run its course, including the following:
- Get Plenty of Rest — Sleep plays a key role in supporting the immune system and is crucially important when the body is fighting influenza. Nine hours of sleep each night while sick can have you feeling better more quickly and help lessen the severity of fatigue associated with the flu.
- Drink Lots of Water — Staying hydrated is one of the most important factors in beating any virus, and the flu is no exception. Focus on pushing fluids throughout the day, avoiding those with high sugar content or beverages which contain caffeine. For best results, stick to plain, non-carbonated water.
- Help Reduce Your Symptoms — Influenza can cause aches and pains throughout the entire body, many of which can be treated with anti-inflammatory medications (such as ibuprofen). Decongestants and cough medicines may also be effective in easing respiratory symptoms.
- Use a Humidifier — Dry air—common throughout the winter months—can promote cough and congestion. By using a humidifier, you can moisten the air and help ease any respiratory distress you’re experiencing. Be sure to avoid “warm mist” humidifiers, which can lead to the growth of mold and harmful bacteria.
- Blow Your Nose Often — If you’re experiencing a stuffy nose as part of the flu, clearing mucus and blowing your nose often can help prevent complications such as sinus or ear infection from occurring.
When to Seek Medical Attention
Most cases of the flu can be expected to clear up with at-home care, but the virus can occasionally lead to severe complications, including pneumonia. You should consider coming in for treatment if:
- You’ve been sick for over a week and aren’t getting better.
- Your symptoms are more severe than anything you’ve ever experienced.
- You have a fever above 102 F that will not subside.
- You feel dizzy, confused or exceedingly weak.
- You can’t stop vomiting or having diarrhea.
- You can’t keep fluids down.
In some cases, your treating provider may opt to prescribe antiviral medications to help lessen the severity of symptoms and reduce the chances of complications occurring. Hydration via IV fluids may also be necessary for those who have lost excess amounts of fluids.
Rest and plenty of fluids to avoid dehydration are essential for treating the flu in children. In treating headache, fever and other symptoms, aspirin should be avoided in children under 18 years old to prevent the development of a rare disorder called Reye’s Syndrome. Acetaminophen and other fever reducers should be used with care in children under the age of six.
Young children are especially susceptible to complications from the flu. If symptoms develop (including fever), a doctor’s visit is recommended as early as possible.
Beat the Flu with ConvenientMD!
Providers at every ConvenientMD location have seen many cases of influenza over the years and are well-equipped to help get you back on your feet. Contact us or simply walk into any of our Urgent Care facilities to get treated today!