The flu is a very common condition that can leave you with the inability to work and perform your usual activities for many days. Sometimes symptoms may be too severe, leading to life-threatening situations. Getting proper and immediate medical care is important.
What is the flu?
The flu, otherwise called influenza, is a viral infection that affects your nose, throat, and lungs. It is often confused with a common cold. However, it is a distinct condition that is more serious than a common cold.
Influenza viruses changing constantly, with new strains coming up regularly. If you have suffered from influenza earlier, your body many have already made antibodies to fight that specific virus strain. If future influenza viruses are similar to those you have encountered in the past (either by having had the disease or by getting vaccinated), those antibodies can prevent infection or reduce its severity. However, antibody levels may decline over time.
In addition, the antibodies against the influenza viruses that you have encountered before may not protect you from the new influenza strains that can vary differently from the viruses you have had before.
What are the symptoms of the flu?
Unlike a common cold, the onset of the symptoms of influenza is sudden and severe. Signs of influenza are:
- Runny or blocked nose
- Fever and chills
- Sore throat
- Aching muscles
- Shortness of breath
- Headache and eye pain
- Dry and persistent cough
- Vomiting and diarrhea (more common in children)
When should I visit a doctor?
Usually, the flu does not require any medical attention. However, if you think you are at risk of the flu leading to complications, visit your doctor immediately. Some important signs to look out for are:
- Difficulty breathing and/or chest pain
- Symptoms of existing medical conditions worsening
- Extreme exhaustion
- Muscle pain
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How is the flu diagnosed?
Usually, doctors can easily diagnose influenza based on your symptoms. Sometimes, your doctor might order a test to check the presence of the influenza virus in your body. The most common test is PCR (Polymerase chain reaction) testing.
What are the treatments for the flu?
In most cases, taking rest, staying hydrated, and eating well can solve the problem. However, if you are at risk of developing complications, you may be prescribed an antiviral drug. Some antiviral drugs are:
Home remedies, inhalers, and balms can be used to alleviate symptoms and reduce discomfort.
How long does it take to recover from the flu?
Most people who catch the flu recover within a week or two. Symptoms generally decline within three to five days. If the symptoms worsen or remain the same even after a week, seek medical attention immediately. As many people die from the flu every year, it is important to treat the infection and prevent complications from developing. If serious complications occur, they can be treated with medical care.
How can I prevent the flu?
- Wash your hands: Wash your hands often with a cleanser for at least 20 seconds. This can help prevent many infections that transmit by contact. Use hand sanitizers if the soap isn’t available.
- Avoid touching your face: Avoid touching your face often, especially when you are in a public place. After you return home, wash your hands immediately.
- Clean surfaces: Clean surfaces like tables, desks, doors, etc. often to prevent the spread of the flu through contact.
- Cover your face when you cough or sneeze: Use a cloth, tissue, or your elbow when you cough or sneeze. Remember to look away from people when you cough or sneeze. Wash your hands after doing so.
- Vaccinate: When there is an ongoing epidemic, make sure that you take influenza vaccinations to prepare your body for the fight against the virus.
- Avoid meeting people when there is an epidemic: The flu spreads easily if there is a crowd such as office buildings, schools, auditoriums, workplaces, and public transportation—avoid meeting too many people during peak flu season. This can help reduce your chances of acquiring the flu. If you are sick, stay home for a day after you are cured so that you do not infect others.
What are the risk factors for the flu?
- Age: Children between 6 months and 5 years of age and adults who are older than 65 years are more vulnerable to the flu.
- Lifestyle and workplace: People who live or work in places that are crowded, such as nursing homes, orphanages, factories, or military barracks, have higher chances of developing the flu. People working or staying in hospitals are also at high risk.
- Pregnancy: Pregnant women are at an increased risk of developing influenza and its complications than others, especially after the first trimester.
- Weakened immune system: Certain treatments and drugs that can weaken your immune system such as cancer treatments, long-term use of steroids, anti-rejection drugs, organ transplants, etc. This can make it easier for the virus to infect and cause severe disease .
- Chronic illnesses: Long-term conditions like lung diseases, diabetes, nervous system diseases, heart disease, metabolic disorders, and airway abnormality, and/or blood diseases may greatly heighten your risk of influenza and its complications.
- Aspirin use under the age of 19: People who are under 19 years and receiving aspirin therapy are at higher risk of developing influenza. They may also develop Reye’s syndrome as a result.
- Obesity: People with a BMI above 40 have a high risk of developing the flu and its complications.
Are there any complications associated with the flu?
Complications of the flu are quite rare. However, some of them, like pneumonia, can be deadly, and so it is best to diagnose and treat the complications, if you have any, immediately. Some of them are:
The flu is an infection that usually resolves on its own. Taking rest, drinking plenty of fluids, and eating healthy foods is extremely crucial during the infection.
Frequently Asked Questions (FAQs)
- How does the flu spread?
You may pass or receive the flu if you touch your nose, eyes, or mouth after touching a contaminated object. You can also get it if an affected person near you sneezes or coughs.
2. Is there a vaccination for bird flu?
No, there is no vaccination for bird flu. Influenza vaccines do not provide protection from avian flu.
3. What are the causes of the flu?
Influenza is caused by the flu virus. It can spread easily by contact and air. If you touch a contaminated surface and bring your hand to your nose, eyes, or mouth, you may acquire the disease. The same happens when you breathe in contaminated air, for instance, when someone sneezes next to you and you breathe in the contaminated air.