When the weather is colder and drier, it’s prime time for colds and the flu to spread. According to the CDC, every flu season, up to 45 million Americans become infected by this illness. Furthermore, the flu is responsible for an estimated 800,000 hospitalizations each year.
Spotting the flu early is better for you and others.
With that said, knowing how to spot a flu is extremely important. After all, the earlier the flu is caught, the easier it is to treat (and reduce the chances of transmitting it to others).
What are the signs of the flu?
Now, the signs of a flu infection can change depending on how extreme the infection is and the condition of the infected person. There are, however, some tell-tale signs that someone is fighting off this kind of infection, including…
Fever is the most widely recognized symptom of the flu. Fortunately, this symptom is easy enough to catch with the use of a thermometer.
Why does this symptom happen?
Fevers occur when the body raises its own temperature in an attempt to fight an infection. Specifically, some infections cannot survive hotter environments. So, the increased temperature can help the body destroy the foreign invaders that are causing an illness.
Fevers can be dangerous.
Sometimes, however, a fever can get too high, resulting in some potentially dangerous complications. For adults, once the fever reaches 103 degrees Fahrenheit, it can be a sign of danger. For infants and the elderly, even slight changes in temperature can be a sign of a dangerous flu.
Symptoms often don’t appear alone.
Flu-induced fever usually doesn’t come alone; it’s often accompanied by the following symptom…
Fever and chills? It might be the flu.
How does the flu cause chills?
Chills happen when the flu causes the body to experience the sensation of coldness much more potently than usual. These chills are typically experienced after the flu has already set in and other symptoms are present.
Chills also come with shivers and all the other common signs of being too cold. Why the shivering, though? Because shivering is the result of your muscles constantly contracting and relaxing—one way your body tries to generate heat in response to feeling cold.
Check for early warning signs.
Now, chills are common signs of an advanced flu. What about early flu symptoms?…
Coughing isn’t just for colds, but for the flu as well.
When does this symptom appear?
This symptom can occur before other flu signs. In fact, it’s important to recognize that coughing can happen while an infected person appears otherwise healthy… and can spread the illness to others. That is why many people visiting hospitals are often required to wear face masks: to prevent the spread of this infection.
Why does the flu cause coughing?
During a flu, the body produces excess mucus in an attempt to clear out the infection. Specifically, mucus can trap foreign invaders. Once trapped, special enzymes within the mucus can attack these invaders.
Coughing is the next step in this process. Namely, coughing helps the body clear excess mucus from the lungs and airways, meaning foreign invaders exit your system.
The flu aggravates many airways.
Another tell-tale flu symptom also leads to aggravation of the airways…
16. Sore Throat
Sore throat paired with the previously listed symptoms might indicate a flu rather than something else, like strep throat.
Why does the flu cause sore throat?
Sore throats occur for a variety of reasons.
- Typically, though, they happen when the flu infects the throat. This infection then leads to swollen and inflamed tissues, which cause the throat to become worn and sore.
- Of course, the frequent coughing that comes with the flu also irritates the throat and can lead to soreness. This fact is especially true if the coughing is particularly harsh.
- Furthermore, the excess mucus produced during a flu can run down the throat and aggravate the tissue, making it sore as well.
A sore throat doesn’t necessarily mean a dry throat.
So, when sore throats and coughs show up, they could be signs of the flu. Naturally, they’re often accompanied by the following symptom…
15. Mucus (Or, More Accurately, Phlegm)
Coughing, mucus, and phlegm? Oh my. It might be the flu.
Why does the flu mean lots of mucus?
Mucus production is a sign that the body is fighting an infection. Mucus serves both to capture unwanted bacteria and help the body to process an infection. When people think of the flu, what they are actually thinking about isn’t mucus, but phlegm. Phlegm is produced by the lungs and can cause coughing, which is common during a flu infection.
Don’t ignore symptoms when they get serious.
The following is another common sign of the flu, but unlike mucus, it’s a sign of a much more serious infection…
14. Muscles Aches
Unfortunately, the flu can impact just about every part of the body, including the muscles.
How can the flu cause muscle aches?
It all has to do with the production of white blood cells. You see, when the flu infects the body, it sends out white blood cells (antibodies) to fight the infection. This increased production of antibodies leads to swelling and strain on the tissue, which causes the muscles aches so commonly seen with this condition.
Muscle aches aren’t the only aches the flu can cause.
Muscle aches are one of the most distinct signs of a flu infection. If you notice these aches, along with the following symptom, it’s a sure sign of infection…
13. Body Aches
Like muscle aches, body aches are a distinct symptom of the flu.
The flu or something else?
If you are experiencing body aches and other symptoms together, it’s another likely sign of a flu infection.
Why does the flu cause body aches?
These aches occur for reasons similar to muscle aches, but also come with general fatigue. You see, when infected by the flu, the body has to spend many of its resources fighting off the infection. This process leads to a general loss of health throughout the body, which in turn leads to aches.
So, just how does fatigue impact the body during a bout of the flu?…
Excessive tiredness is another likely sign that points to the flu.
Why does the flu cause fatigue?
Fighting off the flu is incredibly taxing for the body. In order to defeat the infection, the body must divert all of its resources. This includes:
- increased white blood cell production
- increased mucus production
- increased body temperature (fevers)
While the body is fighting off a flu, it can feel like you are running a marathon. That’s why fatigue is such a common sign of the flu.
Symptoms can compound.
This general symptom can also be brought on or worsened by another flu symptom…
It’s hard to miss this symptom. After all, vomiting is one of the clearest signs of illness.
Vomiting isn’t just annoying; it’s dangerous.
When it comes to the flu specifically, vomiting can be a particularly dangerous symptom. Why? Because this symptom can lead to dehydration, which can be fatal if left untreated.
How does the flu cause vomiting?
The flu causes vomiting by disturbing the delicate balance of the stomach. Now, the stomach is partly made up of a lining called the GI tract. The flu inflames this lining, which makes it susceptible to disturbance.
What are some good foods to eat during the flu?
If your favorite foods have ever made you sick while infected with the flu, this inflammation is why. This sensitivity is also why people recommend neutral foods that are easy to digest, as they don’t upset this lining.
Some good neutral foods include:
Vomiting isn’t the only path to dehydration.
Now, vomiting isn’t the only symptom that can lead to dangerous dehydration…
Diarrhea is a more extreme symptom of influenza. So, this symptom—paired with other flu signs—is a clear indication that you should seek professional medical attention.
How does the flu cause diarrhea?
Inflammation and imbalance of the digestive system lead to this symptom.
Diarrhea is annoying and dangerous.
Much like vomiting, diarrhea can lead to dehydration, which can sometimes be fatal. That is why doctors recommend you drink lots of fluids while sick.
Diarrhea and vomiting can worsen other symptoms.
While diarrhea and vomiting are dangerous symptoms, they are not the only ones worth noting. In fact, these two issues can create or worsen the following symptom…
If your head is pounding, the flu could be the culprit.
How does the flu cause headaches?
Dehydration is one of the most common causes. Why? As the body loses fluid, headaches can become more likely.
Another reason headaches occur? As a result of the body releasing cytokines to help fight the flu. These particles can lead to inflammation, which also causes headaches.
The flu or something else?
Now, a headache alone is not a sign of the flu. It needs to come with a few others symptoms in order to make it clear that you are fighting a flu and not some other illness. So, a headache alone isn’t necessarily a cause for great concern.
Some symptoms require immediate attention.
Some symptoms of the flu, though, do require emergency medical attention…
8. Emergency Symptoms
Emergency symptoms for the flu are signs of extreme infection that need to be treated by a doctor right away. Age is an important factor to consider here, as extreme symptoms for children are different than those for adults.
What are emergency symptoms for children?
For children, emergency symptoms should be evaluated by a doctor right away. These symptoms include:
- a bluish face or lips
- rushed breathing
- slow breathing
- chest pain
What are emergency symptoms for adults?
Adults can also have extreme symptoms from the flu. Some of these signs include:
- difficulty breathing
- extreme coughing
- chest pain
- severe weakness
What are dangerous symptoms no matter your age?
In both adults and children, not urinating can be a sign that the infection has become an emergency, as it can quickly lead to extreme dehydration.
Do not leave the flu untreated.
When these signs emerge, seek medical attention right away. Not treating the flu promptly can lead to some devastating complications…
7. Flu Complication Symptoms
The flu is a potentially dangerous infection that can lead to some severe complications. When this happens, it’s extra important to seek medical attention right away.
How do you know if you have a complication?
There should be some warning signs. These signs can include:
- advanced infections like sinus infections or pneumonia
- inflammation around the heart or lining of the brain
- interactions with pre-existing medical conditions, which can worsen these conditions’ symptoms
What’s the next step?
So, what should someone do if they think they have the flu?…
6. See a Doctor
With so many people each year catching the flu, it’s important to be able to recognize these signs of an infection. After all, being able to spot these symptoms can prevent the flu from getting worse or spreading. It’s always worth keeping in mind that these signs will usually appear together if someone is sick with the flu. So, look out for a combination of these symptoms.
What can you expect when you go to the doctor’s office?
When you go to the doctor’s office, they can check for the flu with a simple test. Known as rapid influenza diagnostic tests (RIDTs), these tests involve a simple oral swab that can then let you know whether or not you have the flu within 10-15 minutes.
What happens when you test positive for the flu?
If your flu symptoms are severe, you might receive antiviral medication to combat the illness. These drugs can include:
- Tamiflu (oseltamivir)
- Relenza (zanamivir)
- Rapivab (peramivir)
- Xofluza (baloxavir)
Self-care is common.
Most often, though, your doctor will recommend bed rest, fluids, and throat lozenges (cough drops). Although self-care is common, it’s still important to see a doctor. That way, they can evaluate if you are at higher risk of complications or if you actually have something besides the flu.
Bed rest means you’ll be spending lots of time secluded as you build back your strength. So, just how exactly should you manage your self-care time to recover quickly?…
5. Sleep Is Your Best Friend
One of the best ways to fight any illness is to take it easy. So, when it comes to fighting the flu, isolate yourself from others to eliminate the risk of transmission and get some rest.
Why is sleep so good for the flu?
Although it’s common to think of sleep as unimportant, nothing could be further from the truth. Sleep is incredibly important, and it serves several major functions. One of those functions? Aiding recovery. In other words, sleeping more can speed up recovery time.
Why are you so sleepy during this time?
Fortunately, it’s easier to catch some extra Z’s during the flu. After all, one of the most common side effects of this illness is drowsiness. Why is that, though?
Part of it involves your body’s immune response. Specifically, it has to do with proteins in the brain. These proteins—interleukin 1 and AcPb—can interact when someone is infected with the flu. This interaction effectively sends the signal that the body needs to sleep.
You can do more than sleep, though.
While sleeping is one of the most effective ways to speed up your recovery, there’s another simple way you can also fight the flu…
4. Drink Lots of Fluids
It’s easy to become dehydrated with the flu. And dehydration can lead to some severe consequences—including death in some cases. Even the less-severe effects of dehydration, though, can make it harder for you to recover from the flu.
The solution? Drink lots and lots of fluids.
Why should you up your fluid intake?
Besides keeping you hydrated, soothing liquids can also help moisten and soothe a sore throat. Liquids like broth may also help ease a queasy stomach.
What can you drink that’s good for the flu?
While the answer to this question will vary by individual, some options include:
- sports drink (like Gatorade)
- coconut water
Still have a sore throat?
A sore throat can make drinking difficult. Fortunately, there’s an over-the-counter remedy for this problem that can help you power through your flu…
3. Grab Some Throat Lozenges (Cough Drops)
Throat lozenge is a fancy term for cough drop. When you’ve got a sore throat and cough, these drops can be lifesavers.
What should you look for in cough drops?
You want cough drops to soothe your throat. So, opt for those that have menthol and/or honey, as these ingredients are incredibly soothing.
What are some good cough drops?
Some reputable brands include:
What about non-OTC options?
Don’t want to try anything over the counter? Try an herbal tea with honey.
Keep up the caloric intake.
Of course, don’t just make sure that you’re drinking enough; make sure you’re eating enough, too. After all, food is energy for the body, and the body needs lots of energy to fight a flu.
Wondering what foods to eat and what foods to avoid during a bout of the flu?…
2. Eating During the Flu
It can be hard to eat during the flu, especially if you have a sore throat or nausea. However, it’s important to eat as much as you can. Why? Because food is fuel for your body. And fighting an illness requires lots of fuel.
What food and drink should you avoid?
When eating for the flu, you want something that won’t upset the stomach or throat easily. It’s therefore best to avoid excess sugar, fats, and stimulants.
Some specific foods to avoid include:
- sugary food and drink
- anything greasy
What food and drink is good?
Keep it bland and easy to digest; that way, your food and drink will be less likely to disturb an upset stomach.
Some specific foods to try include:
- brown rice
- plain Greek yogurt
The best flu treatment of all?
These methods are all great for treating the flu. What’s the best flu treatment, though?…
1. Prevent the Flu from Occurring in the First Place
Prevention is the best medicine. No ifs, ands, or buts about it.
What are some of the best ways to prevent flu?
So, just how exactly can you reduce the risk of catching the flu in the first place? Some great practices include:
- washing your hands
- not touching your mouth
- wearing a medical mask
- getting a flu shot
- disinfecting surfaces like doorknobs
- avoiding large crowds of people
What happens if you notice flu symptoms?
Some of the best practices once you notice flu symptoms include seeing a doctor right away and staying home.
This last part is critical in reducing the transmission of the flu to others. After all, your flu can be contagious a full day before you show symptoms and remain that way for the first week that follows. If you want to make flu season easier for everyone, you have to do your part to reduce transmission risk.