The flu can range in severity from mild to deadly. Many people with the virus experience mild symptoms but should still stay home to avoid spreading it to others.
Common symptoms of the flu include:
- a cough
- muscle or body aches
- a sore throat
- a runny or stuffy nose
- nausea or vomiting
Most people want to feel better as quickly as possible and avoid any severe symptoms. This article provides some tips and tricks to handle the flu and speed up recovery.
Here, we explain what steps people can take at each stage of the flu.
Before you get sick
Preventing the flu is the best way to avoid symptoms. People can reduce their risk of the virus by getting a flu shot and taking extra precautions during flu season.
The flu season is cyclical in most areas, with more cases occurring during the fall and winter months.
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) recommend that most people get a flu shot by the end of October. Although the vaccine that a person receives will not prevent every form of the flu, it provides protection against the strain that is likely to infect people during that year.
The vaccine is a safe and effective way of preventing the virus during flu season. According to the Infectious Diseases Society of America, the vaccine can also reduce the risk of severe complications in people who do get the flu.
General tips for preventing infection include:
- avoiding touching the face
- washing the hands regularly with soap and water
- using an alcohol-based hand sanitizer when soap and water are unavailable
- avoiding close contact with people who are sick
- maintaining healthful habits, such as getting enough sleep and eating a balanced diet
When you first get sick
Most people will only have mild-to-moderate flu symptoms, and they may only experience some of the possible symptoms of the disease.
The CDC recommend that people who experience any flu symptoms should stay home and rest. They should only leave home to make necessary trips, such as to see their doctor or buy groceries.
Staying inside and resting will help the body fight off the virus. It will also reduce the risk of it spreading to other people.
A person should talk to a doctor as soon as possible after any signs of the flu occur. Doing this is particularly important for people at risk of complications, such as older adults and people who smoke.
The National Institutes of Health (NIH) also recommend talking to a doctor about antiviral medication during a local flu outbreak. Antiviral medications can prevent severe symptoms and shorten the duration of the illness.
According to the NIH, an antiviral medication is most effective within the first 48 hours of developing symptoms. Therefore, it is best to talk to a doctor as soon as possible about these treatments.
A doctor may also prescribe an antibiotic if there is a risk of other bacterial infections, such as pneumonia.
Fighting the flu at home
The NIH note that some of the most important ways of fighting the flu at home include:
- getting lots of rest
- drinking plenty of fluids, including juices and water
- taking acetaminophen or other over-the-counter pain relievers to reduce fever (people with underlying health conditions should ask their doctor what medication is safest for them)
- avoiding smoking or being around people who are smoking
- avoiding drinking alcohol while sick
Some additional ways to reduce flu symptoms include:
- taking a warm bath with Epsom salt or baking soda to relieve aches
- using a humidifier to add moisture to the air
- applying a vapor rub to the chest, for adults
- using a saltwater gargle
- trying supplements, such as vitamin C, probiotics, or echinacea
According to a 2014 review, honey could also help with symptoms. Researchers found three studies providing evidence that taking honey right before bed can ease symptoms, such as a cough, in children.
Another study from 2014 found that taking zinc can help with flu symptoms by preventing the virus from rapidly spreading, reducing the duration of illness. However, there is not enough evidence to support routine or high dosages of zinc to prevent the flu.
Most people do not need to see a doctor for symptoms of the flu.
However, anyone at risk of serious health complications should talk to their doctor if they develop symptoms. They may also wish to do this if there is a local flu outbreak in the area.
According to the CDC, people at higher risk of developing complications include young children and adults over 65 years of age. Other conditions and factors that increase the risk of flu complications include:
- neurological conditions
- chronic lung disease
- heart disease
- history of stroke
- kidney, liver, or metabolic disorders
- weakened immune system
- blood disorders
People in these groups should take extra care to avoid getting sick. If they notice any flu-like symptoms, they should talk to a doctor immediately. Complications could include a sinus infection or pneumonia.
The flu can also worsen some preexisting conditions. For example, it can trigger asthma attacks in people with asthma.
People who wish to shorten the duration of the flu should talk to a doctor about antiviral medication.
The NIH recommend that a person see their doctor immediately if any of the following occur:
- heart, breathing, or other health complications develop
- a fever breaks and then comes back, which could indicate the development of another health condition that may need treatment
- they develop a cough with thick mucus
- the symptoms do not improve
People with the flu require plenty of rest and fluids to help with recovery. Doctors can prescribe antiviral medication to shorten the duration of the flu.
A person may also benefit from home remedies to reduce their symptoms, such as using a humidifier or taking a warm bath. Some supplements could also reduce the duration of the flu, but people should always talk to a doctor before taking them.