How To Treat the Flu

Using thermometer

Many people use the term "flu" to refer to everything from a stomach virus to a bad cold, but true flu (or influenza) is in a league of its own, annually taking the lives of tens of thousands of primarily old and young people (or those with compromised immune systems or underlying medical conditions), and hospitalizing considerably more. Old and young people are strongly encouraged to get a flu shot. But even with a vaccine, there's a chance that you may get the flu this season.

Unlike what is known as the "stomach flu," influenza targets our respiratory system (nose, lungs, throat and bronchial tubes). If you have it, you'll exhibit some or all of the following symptoms.

  • Loss of appetite - lackadaisical approach to eating.
  • Fever. Childhood fevers are often more severe, but it's not at all uncommon for any adult to run a fever in the 100's when they have the flu. Often a low fever - and the weakness and chills it causes - are your first hint that the flu is about to hit you in full force.
  • Congestion that turns to a runny nose.
  • Sore throat.
  • Cough that turns productive.
  • Exhaustion and weakness.
  • Muscle aches and pains.

All of these symptoms tend to hit you at the same time - another indication that flu is the culprit. And of course, once you notice the symptoms, you're past the point of prevention and into the realm of treatment. To overcome and treat the flu, here are natural remedies for your fast recovery.

  1. Fluids, fluids, fluids. Fluid intake is perhaps the most important factor for healthy people fighting the flu. These sufferers lose more fluids from fever than they think; you must replenish your lost fluids in order to provide your body with the strength to get rid of the flu. Drink plenty of water. Orange juice is good for its vitamin C content, too, and sports drinks like Gatorade help replenish electrolytes.
  2. Sleep. Your body is probably telling you to sleep anyway - listen to it! Lack of proper sleep might have been what got you into this situation in the first place, and lack of sleep certainly won't help you get out of it.
  3. Food. Even though you don't feel like eating, nutrition is an important part of recovery. Don't let the flu prevent you from gaining the fuel you need to keep your body strong. Eat the largest possible portion of that chicken soup. Chicken soup, as it happens, also helps keep your fluids up.
  4. Minimal exertion. Even if you don't feel like sleeping, it's far better to stay in bed and recuperate through relaxation than it is to try to attend that weekly meeting at the office (no one wants to catch the flu from you, either).
  5. Keep an eye on that fever.
    • As mentioned before, young children often suffer higher fever during the flu. Toddlers should be seen by a pediatrician in the event of a high fever that lasts for a day. If your child is beyond toddler years, use their behavior to guide your decision; if a fever continues longer than two days and is accompanied by significant fatigue or any kind of pain, for example, schedule a doctor's appointment. But if your child expresses typical enthusiasm for play and has good energy and appetite, you can generally rest assured that the fever is not any reason to worry.
    • If your infant has a fever, you should call your doctor's office.
    • As an adult, if your fever exceeds 103 degrees or if you've had a fever for more than three days, then you should call your doctor.
    • The elderly and those with diabetes, a weakened immune system, cardiovascular disease, pregnancy beyond the first trimester, lung disease or asthma should call their doctor when flu symptoms arrive.
  6. Medications? As a general rule, you should take as little medication as possible.
    • Pain and fever reducers. The rule above definitely applies when it comes to NSAIDS (non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs) like Tylenol or Advil. Though the general perception has always been that these drugs are perfectly safe, the potential side effects from frequent use - even for adults with no health complications - are often quite serious. And contrary to what many believe, a low fever might actually help the body fight the flu.

      Parents should talk to a pediatrician before giving their young children any flu medicine. Those with health complications should talk to their doctors to ensure safety as they treat their flu with medications.

    • Cough suppressants can help those with a persistent dry hacking cough, but those with a productive cough should not suppress it. Rather, they should consider taking an expectorant, which encourages the mucus to loosen so that you can cough it up easier. Once again, talk to a doctor's office if your child is young or if you have health complications.
    • Decongestants (both spray and pill form) can be taken by healthy adults, but can often exacerbate congestion when taken for more than three days. Young children should not take decongestants unless recommended by a doctor. What works instead? Try saline nasal sprays, humidifiers, breathing strips (commonly used to stop snoring), lots of fluids and - Grandma was right - chicken soup.
    • In some cases, your doctor may prescribe antiviral medication to help you fight a bad case of flu. However, doctors are inclined to do so only if other treatment methods have failed or aren't an option. Some antiviral medication is unacceptable for those with certain lung conditions.

Most of the time, lots of rest and fluids will speed your recovery. If you're stuck with the flu, this might be the perfect time to take up that book you've been meaning to read, or just catch up on sleep. And as you recover, you can rediscover the joys of daytime television. Eat your chicken soup and drink your water! You'll be rid of the flu before you know it.


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