Patients taking rapid breaths, experiencing difficulty breathing or swallowing, or who start turning blue in the face should seek immediate medical care. Patients should call the doctor if new symptoms develop, if they start to feel worse after three to five days, or if they are still not feeling well after 14 days. Since the flu typically only lasts about two weeks, a more prolonged bout of sickness may indicate that there is another health concern that should be addressed.
When patients come down with the flu, doctors encourage a few simple steps to combat the symptoms; in particular, rest, eating meals as tolerated, and drinking plenty of fluids.
- Drink at least eight 8-ounce glasses of water daily
- Keep humidity levels high. A steamy shower or a humidifier may help decrease the discomfort of thick secretions and dried out nasal tissue.
- Keep the head of your bed elevated and using saline nasal drops to reduce nasal congestion.
- Gargle with saltwater, consume warm fluids (chicken soup is an excellent option, and also helps with congestion), and suck on hard candies or throat lozenges to ease a sore throat or cough.
- Wash your hands frequently—especially after sneezing—to help prevent spread of the flu to others. In general, it is a good habit to avoid touching your hands to your face, as this is a common way to become infected by viruses and other infectious agents.
Your doctor is the best source of information on the drug treatment choices available to you.
Alternative medicines used to treat symptoms of the flu include homoeopathic medicines, megadoses of vitamin C, zinc lozenges, and Echinacea preparations. Current evidence does not show that homoeopathic medicines prevent or cure the flu. Some clinical trials have demonstrated that vitamin C, zinc lozenges, and Echinacea may shorten the duration of flu symptoms, while other trials have shown that these treatments have no effect.
Women who will be in the second or third trimester of their pregnancy during flu season should ask their doctor about receiving the flu vaccine. Even during the first trimester, pregnant women who have an existing medical condition that puts them at high risk of flu-related complications should receive a flu shot, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
Women who are breastfeeding may receive the flu vaccine. People traveling to the tropics, the southern hemisphere from April to September, or with a large tourist group should discuss their flu risk with a physician before departing.
Children should not take aspirin because of the risk of developing a complication called Reye's syndrome. The flu itself also increases risk for this rare but serious disease. Reye's syndrome is a serious complication of the flu that occurs in children younger than 16 years of age. It affects the liver and central nervous system, and appears in the form of seizures, delirium, and difficulty breathing followed by coma. Because Reye's syndrome is linked to use of aspirin as well as to upper respiratory tract infections, children with the flu should not be treated with aspirin.
The flu can present a serious threat to infants younger than 1 year, older adults, and people with existing heart, lung, or kidney conditions, diabetes, or with poorly working immune systems. On average, about 20,000 people die during each flu epidemic, and more than 200,000 people are hospitalized from complications of the disease. People with high-risk medical conditions, such as heart and lung diseases, are more likely to suffer from complications, require hospital care, or die.
Pneumonia, another infection of the lungs, is the most common complication of the flu. Pneumonia is a more serious infection of the lung tissue. Sometimes requiring intensive care, pneumonia that occurs as a complication of the flu can be caused by either bacteria or a virus, or, most commonly, a combination of both. People with heart and lung conditions are more prone to develop pneumonia as a result of the flu. Viral pneumonia is the most serious complication, but is not as common as the other types.
Patients typically start to feel better within two to five days, and recover from a bout of the flu in a about a week or two. Older patients may feel weak for a longer period. Patients can gradually resume normal activities, including school and work, as they start to feel better.
If symptoms seem to be getting worse or last longer than two weeks, the patient should call a doctor.
Patients with chronic lung conditions, such as emphysema, asthma, and bronchitis, often experience a worsening of their condition if they come down with the flu. These individuals should make sure their caregiver is aware of their condition, so that he or she can take additional preventive steps if necessary.
Seek medical care if symptoms persist longer than a week or two, if symptoms change, or if you start to feel worse after beginning to feel better. Since the flu typically only lasts about two weeks, this may indicate that there is another health concern that should be addressed.
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