The flu is a general term for symptoms produced by the thousands of strains of influenza viruses. Specific types of flu are called swine flu, bird flu, influenza and influenza B. “Stomach flu” is actually not a type of flu but the common name for this malady has stuck. Real flu types rarely cause vomiting or other abdominal symptoms.
If flu symptoms are left untreated, they can progress into potentially lethal conditions such as pneumonia or encephalitis. Flu symptoms can also contribute to ear and sinus infections. It is estimated that about 36,000 Americans die each year from the flu. People most prone to catching the flu include senior citizens, newborns, pregnant women and people suffering from an autoimmune disorder. The flu is highly contagious.
Common Flu Symptoms
Flu symptoms appear anywhere from 24 hours to one week after a person has been exposed to the virus. Symptoms appear rapidly and the patient deteriorates at an astonishing speed. Common flu symptoms include:
- Fever in both adults in children. Any over 104 degrees F needs immediate medical treatment or hospitalization. Children are especially prone to developing fevers as high as 106 degrees F.
- Flushed or reddened face and neck due to the fever
- Body aches, including persistent headaches
- Uncontrollable shivering, sometimes accompanied by sweating
- Hacking, persistent cough accompanied by a sore throat
- Nose running with clear, water-like mucus
- Loss of appetite and nausea depending on how much mucus is swallowed by the patient, from dehydration or due to not eating regularly
- Extreme fatigue that tends to last after other flu symptoms has disappeared.
Anyone suffering from a chronic breathing problem such as asthma may deteriorate rapidly, so they need to contact their doctors immediately. It is normal for fever to return even after most of the flu symptoms have disappeared.
The good news is that most people recover from the flu without needing to take prescription medication. Symptoms usually begin to ease up after 4 days and mostly go away after one week. It is only in severe cases such as a child with a high fever that need prescription antiviral medication or hospitalization. Some patients may not need to be physically examined by the doctor if the doctor has seen many flu cases recently and talks to the patient over the phone.
Even if they do not need to visit the doctor, people suffering from the flu need home treatment and should not try to go about normal tasks. They should not go to work or school when they are so contagious.
Home treatment for the flu includes:
- Drinking plenty of liquids, except alcoholic beverages because they can dehydrate the body
- Plenty of rest
- Avoiding tobacco smoke or other substances that can irritate the nasal passages
- Using over the counter cough medications, cough drops or honey to help ease coughs and sore throats. Honey should never be given to a small child.
- Use of over the counter acetaminophen (paracetamol) or ibuprofen to bring down fever and ease headaches. Aspirin does NOT work for bringing down the fever when caused by an influenza virus.
Most people feel cured after 10 days. Contact a doctor immediately if symptoms do not ease up after or begin to worsen 10 days.