Last week, we looked at what you can do to lower your risks of getting influenza and listed some of the things to reduce its spread within your circle of contacts. But even if you’re fanatical about washing your hands and do your best to avoid people with obvious symptoms, there is still a chance that you’ll come down with the flu this year; and the H3N2 strain responsible for much of the flu we’re seeing is a doozy.
Unfortunately, as we discussed last week, getting the flu vaccine is not a guarantee that you’ll stay healthy. While it is important to get a shot since it does offer some protection from complications, hospitalization and death — and is especially important for young children, older adults and those of us with medical problems — it’s only modestly effective at preventing the flu.
Therefore, let’s all be prepared with a strategy for combating the flu if it strikes.
There’s good news and bad news about the flu. If you’ve got it, there’s no cure. However, there are some things you can do to ease your suffering and shorten the duration of your symptoms.
Flu symptoms and remedies
Flu symptoms extend beyond just a bad cold and will include fever, nausea, fatigue and severe body aches. It’s important to treat the symptoms effectively, since they can lead to dangerous health problems like dehydration.
If you or someone in your family has the flu, the following strategies may help ease some of the unpleasant symptoms. However, before trying any of these remedies at home, always speak with your doctor first for expert advice on how to treat your illness.
The only real way to treat the fatigue associated with the flu is to stay home from work or school and get the rest your body needs. The fatigue you feel happens because your body is working overtime to battle the influenza virus.
Aches and pains
Over-the-counter pain relievers such as ibuprofen (Advil, Motrin) and acetaminophen (Tylenol) can help reduce your aches and lower your fever. Pay close attention to medication ingredients and warning labels, since many cough and flu medicines contain ibuprofen or acetaminophen, which makes it easy to overdose.
No matter how bad you feel, certain at-risk patients should not take any over-the-counter medicines without first talking to their doctor. Medications, even those you can buy without a prescription, can be harmful to people with liver, stomach or blood pressure issues.
Nausea and vomiting
Vomiting can lead to dehydration, which can make your nausea worse. Drink plenty of clear fluids or sports drinks to stay hydrated and avoid this vicious cycle. Ginger ale and peppermint tea can also help. If you can’t keep anything down, your doctor may be able to prescribe a medication to help reduce your nausea.
Sore throat and congestion
Lozenges can help ease a sore throat, but may be hard to tolerate if you’re dealing with nausea and vomiting. Use a humidifier to help alleviate the irritation caused by dry indoor air that is common in the winter. Breathing in the steam from your shower or a pot of hot water can help keep your nasal passages clear.
Home remedies really can help reduce the suffering caused by the flu. Your first line of defense, however, should be a call to your doctor. They can help you manage the symptoms and may prescribe an antiviral medication to help shorten the duration of your illness.
Stay on guard; get your flu shot as soon as possible; wash your hands; get plenty of sleep and avoid contact with those who are ill — but, if you do get the flu, rest. Follow the advice above and know that this year, you’re in good company.
Dr. Alfred Casale, a cardiothoracic surgeon, is Associate Chief Medical Officer for Geisinger Health and Chair of the Geisinger Cardiac Institute. Readers may write to him via [email protected]