Influenza, also known as the flu or grippe, is a notorious viral infection of the upper respiratory system, including the lungs, throat, and nose. It is one of the most common health problems afflicting people across the globe.
Although influenza can affect anyone at any time of the year, it comes in full swing as the cold season approaches.
Often people mistake influenza for the common cold during the initial stage because of the similar symptoms. It can cause severe complications in some cases.
According to the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), thousands of people in the USA die each year because of complications arising from influenza.
Causes of Influenza
Influenza, or the flu, is caused by viruses that can infect the nose, throat, and lungs. Flu viruses are classified into A, B, and C types.
Influenza type A and B viruses are the ones responsible for the annual seasonal flu. These can mutate into new subtypes and can be linked to occasional flu outbreaks. Influenza is a contagious illness that is spread through:
- Droplet transmission, which occurs when infected people cough, sneeze, or talk and send droplets laden with the virus into the air. The virus then enters the mouths or noses of people in the vicinity.
- Touching objects and surfaces that have the virus on it and thereafter touching your mouth and nose without washing your hands.
- Personal contact through shaking hands and hugging and through the saliva by kissing or sharing food and drinks.
You can be a potential carrier of the flu virus even before you know it, 1 day before the symptoms appear, and up to 5–7 days after you are down with the flu. Some people, especially young children and people with weakened immune systems, might be able to infect others for an even longer time.
Symptoms of Influenza
Influenza symptoms include the following:
- Fever that can go as high as 103 F (39.4 C) to 105 F (40.5 C)
- Pain in the muscles and joints
- Sore throat
- Runny or stuffy nose
It takes a week to recover from a bout of influenza, but it can keep you exhausted for 3–4 weeks after you recover.
Risk Factors for Influenza
Certain patients are at high risk for the flu:
- Children under the age of 4 years
- Adults older than 65 years
- Pregnant women
- People suffering from lung diseases
- People having disorders that can impair the movement of respiratory secretions
- People suffering from chronic disorders such as diabetes mellitus, hemoglobinopathies (sickle cell disease, thalassemia, etc.), immunodeficiency, chronic obstructive pulmonary disease, renal and hepatic ailments, and diseases of the heart
Patients taking aspirin are NOT at higher risk for catching the flu, but they are at high risk to get certain complications if they acquire the flu and other viral infections while taking aspirin.
A case of flu in such patients can be complicated and lead to mortality by aggravating underlying illnesses such as primary influenza pneumonia, secondary bacterial pneumonia, and acute respiratory distress syndrome
Pneumonia can be a serious life-threatening complication, especially in older people and individuals with chronic diseases.
Standard Treatment for Influenza
The symptoms of flu coincide with a number of diseases, which makes it necessary to get proper treatment.
- Patients with the flu are encouraged to take adequate rest and stay indoors to help recover and avoid spreading the virus.
- The symptoms of flu such as fever and aches can be addressed by giving antipyretics and analgesics such as acetaminophen or ibuprofen. Additionally, medicines or oral drops to relieve sore throat and cough may be prescribed.
- To combat any incidence of getting dehydrated, increase your fluid intake.
With proper care, you may get rid of the flu in about a week’s time. However, physicians may prescribe antiviral medications in high-risk groups to help curtail the complications by reducing the duration and severity of the flu. Tamiflu, an antiviral medication, is effective only when started within 48 hours of the first onset of the symptoms.
As many strains of the influenza virus seem to have developed resistance towards antivirals over the course of time, always seek your doctor’s advice for an alternative that suits you best.
Home Remedies to Treat Influenza
It is important to begin treatment as soon as symptoms appear because influenza can lead to other health complications. Prescribed antiviral drugs may ease symptoms.
However, in many cases, simple home remedies can alleviate mild to moderate flu symptoms.
1. Take Plenty of Rest
Sleeping adequately helps your immune system to respond well in the face of cold and flu.
2. Increase Your Fluid Intake
Fever is the body’s immune response to the viral infection that has caused the flu. Fever can render you dehydrated as a result of sweating.
Drink sufficient amounts of water to stay hydrated, add moisture to your respiratory passages, and thin the mucus secretions. Increased water intake will also aid in dislodging the mucus and easing your coughs.
You can also drink fruit juices to stay hydrated and to get vitamin C, which will help boost your immune system and multiply the production of WBCs, the infection-fighting cells.
- Opt for fresh juice instead of packaged versions.
3. Rinse with Saline Solution
A saline rinse acts as a nasal decongestant and helps you combat cold symptoms.
Saline water can help clear your sinuses by draining away the lodged mucus from your nostrils. It also aids in easing your breathing.
- Boil a cup of water, add 1 teaspoon of sea salt to it, and then let it cool until it is lukewarm.
- Use a dropper to put a few drops of this saline solution in your nostrils, with your head tilted back. Put one drop at a time.
- Then, gently blow your nose to drain out the excess mucus along with the solution.
- Use this remedy up to 3 times a day only.
4. Inhale Steam
Steam is an effective method for thinning mucus, making it easier to flush it out of your system.
Turn on a hot shower and sit in the closed bathroom for a few minutes, inhaling the steam. Do this several times a day to ease congestion.
- Pour boiled water into a large bowl. You can add a few drops of thyme oil or eucalyptus oil to the water to boost the healing effects.
- Drape a towel over your head and breathe deeply for a few minutes.
- Do this as needed to relieve congestion.
5. Drink Broth and Soup
Bone broths and chicken soups are tried and tested remedies for influenza.
Chicken soup or bone broth can help thin the mucus by adding moisture and keeping you hydrated.
- Have a hot bowl of chicken soup or bone broth twice a day, after the appearance of symptoms for first 3–4 days. Add red pepper flakes or chopped garlic to your soup preparations.
6. Install a Humidifier in Your Room
Adjust the humidity levels of your house with the help of a humidifier. Excessive dryness or moisture in the air can aggravate the symptoms of influenza such as a stuffy nose.
- Breathing and sleeping in moist air can help you dislodge and drain the settled mucus from your sinuses.
7. Gargle with Saltwater
Gargling with a mixture of warm water and salt can help remove the mucus and phlegm and reduce the symptoms of influenza.
The antibacterial properties of salt can help fight the infections that cause the excessive production of phlegm. Salt helps draw out the phlegm from the mucous membranes through the process of osmosis. The warm temperature of the water helps soothe the throat.
A 2005 study published in the American Journal of Preventive Medicine corroborates the use of water gargling as an effective way to treat upper respiratory tract infections (URTIs).
- In 1 cup of warm water, add ½ teaspoon of salt.
- Stir until the salt dissolves.
- Use this mixture to gargle.
- Repeat this a number of times throughout the day.
8. Take Probiotics
Probiotics can help keep your gut healthy.
Probiotics are replete with beneficial bacteria that can help that keep your gut healthy and strong, thus strengthening your immune system. You should begin taking probiotics before you get the flu, especially if you have been in contact with someone who is ill.
An unhealthy gut can attract pathogens and cause illness. Probiotics prevent the bacteria from entering your system by forming a barrier around the lining of your intestine.
Include probiotics in your diet especially during the flu season. Always choose a probiotic that contains both Lactobacillus and Bifidobacterium species.
9. Dietary Additions
Several natural ingredients can contribute to reducing flu symptoms. Listed below are some of the many ingredients that can help serve the purpose:
- Simply take 1 tablespoon of honey with a glass of water several times a day.
Lemon has antibacterial, antiviral, antifungal, and anti-inflammatory properties that work together to weaken the flu virus in the body as well as its annoying symptoms.
- Squeeze a lemon in 1 glass of warm water and drink it. Do this three to four times a day until your symptoms subside.
Peppermint is another herb widely used to fight flu symptoms. It is loaded with nutrients that help the body fight off infection.
- Add 1 tablespoon of chopped peppermint leaves to 1 cup of hot water.
- Let it steep for 10 minutes, strain the liquid, and then add some honey to sweeten it.
- Drink the tea while it is still warm.
- Have 3–4 cups of this tea daily for a quick recovery.
The healing properties of mustard can help treat flu symptoms to a great extent. It is loaded with antimicrobial and anti-inflammatory properties that help with a quick recovery.
- Make a paste with 1 tablespoon of dry mustard, 4 tablespoons of flour, one egg white, and a little bit of warm water.
- Smear the paste on a clean muslin cloth and then put another muslin cloth over it.
- Dab some olive oil on your chest and lay this mustard plaster on it.
- Remove the plaster after a few minutes and wash your chest with a clean cloth soaked in warm water.
- If no irritation occurs, then you can leave it on for up to 15 minutes.
- Do this once daily or every 4–6 hours.
Mustard’s pungent odor helps unclog a stuffy nose, whereas the warmth improves blood circulation and eases congestion.
Ginger has long been a popular natural remedy for many health problems, including influenza. The powerful anti-inflammatory properties and the warming nature of ginger help treat various symptoms of the flu. Plus, it helps strengthen the immune system to fight off viruses that cause influenza.
- Make ginger tea by adding 1/2 teaspoon of freshly grated ginger to 1 cup of boiling water.
- Let it steep for a few minutes.
- Add some honey to it, and enjoy this tea up to 3 times a day.
Garlic can work wonders as a remedy for influenza due to its natural antiviral, antifungal, antiseptic, and antibacterial properties. It also contains the immune-boosting compound allicin that helps relieve various flu symptoms.
- Chop or crush 2 or 3 fresh garlic cloves and put them in 1 cup of hot water.
- Let it steep for 10 minutes, strain the liquid, and then drink it like tea.
- Do this 2 or 3 times a day.
Prevention of Influenza
Getting yourself vaccinated annually is the primary step to protect you against three to four different influenza viruses.
Other ways to prevent the spread of this disease include the following:
- Regularly wash your hands to prevent contamination.
- Avoid crowded areas, especially during a flu outbreak.
- Cover your mouth and nose with a handkerchief or paper towel when you cough or sneeze.
- Try your best to stay at home if you develop a fever and for at least 24 hours after it goes away.
- Include immune-strengthening foods in your diet. Cut back on sugary and fatty foods.
- Avoid smoking to keep your immunity levels at optimum. Smokers are susceptible to infection.
When to Consult a Doctor
Check with your doctor:
- If your symptoms seem to worsen
- If you have high fever even after 4–5 days
- If you experience shortness of breath, chest pain, or both
- If your phlegm is green, yellow, or blood ridden
- If you are old or with a compromised immune system
Consult your doctor to promptly address your situation. Timely diagnosis can help you mitigate the chances of complications that may be engendered by a prolonged case of flu.
Influenza or flu can keep your spirits down for a week or so and drain you of energy.
Marked by fever, chills, colds, and sore throat, influenza takes its own time and goes away, but it can take a potentially complicated turn in high-risk groups.
Mild cases tend to take a week or two to get cured. High-risk groups should seek prompt medical attention to get a prescription of antiviral medications that can help reduce the symptoms of flu and prevent any impending complications.
Influenza can be prevented by an administration of flu shots before the onset of the flu season and following hygienic practices to ward off infections that can cause influenza. Once diagnosed with the flu, take proper rest, inhale steam, take some natural ingredients, and drink adequate water, fruit juices, and bone broths to help you combat the infection.
Next time you come down with the flu, arm yourself with home remedies to relieve your symptoms. You’ll surely feel better in no time.
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