The flu is a respiratory condition and needs to be treated accordingly but there are also ways to prevent the spread and contraction of the flu. For chronic pain patients who may already have weakened immune systems, this is even more important. Here’s some tips for preparing for flu season if you’re suffering from a chronic condition.
When is flu season?
Flu season in the United States can be a horrific time for many people. Children and the elderly are the most susceptible to the flu but otherwise healthy adults can also easily contract the disease. Flu season can start as early as October but generally cases of the disease peak around January and February.
In the United States about 5-25% of the population will get the flu each year. For most the flu will be an uncomfortable inconvenience but some people with compromised immune systems can have more complications. On average 2,000 people are hospitalized with flu symptoms. The number of deaths related to this virus are difficult to pinpoint, but experts suggest it is anywhere between 3,000 and 50,000. Why the great discrepancy? It is all dependent on the types of flu viruses causing the main outbreaks and whether or not people have used prevention methods or are treating the condition properly.
What is the flu?
There are some misconceptions about what the flu actually is. Flu, short for influenza, is an easily spreadable viral infection that affects the nose, throat, and lungs. Many people use the term flu for a variety of conditions not all of which are comparable. Some people will mistake a cold for the flu but the absence of a high fever is the differentiating factor. People with the flu also feel achy all over, weak, and tired.
The stomach flu, on the other hand, isn’t really a diagnosable condition at all. What people refer to as the stomach flu is generally a form of gastroenteritis. Symptoms for this condition include vomiting, diarrhea, and abdominal cramps that do not occur in patients with influenza. There are a number of bacteria and viruses that can cause what is commonly referred to as the stomach flu including salmonella or norovirus.
How is the flu different from a cold?
The overall symptoms of a cold and the flu are very similar but it is important to determine which is causing your illness in order to treat it properly. Both are respiratory conditions. In fact, the sickness we refer to as the stomach flu isn’t related to the flu at all. The flu virus does not cause gastrointestinal distress.
Colds typically begin with a sore throat which is followed by sneezing, coughing, congestion, and a runny nose. A cold will usually run its course after a week, though it is important to keep in mind that people with colds are contagious for the first three days. Care should be taken to prevent spreading the germs.
Flu, however, can be a much more serious matter even with a mild case. The symptoms start fast and include sore throat, fevers, headaches, muscle aches, congestion, and coughs. People with the flu generally feel fatigued or like they’ve been run over by a truck. This feeling is absent with a cold. As we mentioned the stomach flu isn’t the flu at all, however the swine flu can cause issues with vomiting and diarrhea. These symptoms are not common with all types of flu viruses. The most common complication with the flu is the possible progression to pneumonia which can be fatal for some patients if not treated properly.
Where to start with preparing for flu season
The best case scenario for someone who gets the flu is that they suffer from fever, aches, pains, and coughing for several days or even several weeks. In the worst case a high-risk patient may require more interventional medical treatments or hospitalization to get the symptoms under control. Of course, while it is important that you prevent the illness from happening through the injection or by cleaning your environment regularly, it is equally as important to maintain a healthy lifestyle in order to keep your immune system ready to fight off infections should they happen. A holistic health approach takes all of these factors into account.
There are plenty of ways to prevent the flu. Here’s where to start.
Avoid common causes and risks
The primary way to contract the flu is to inhale the flu virus. It is easily contractible and can spread quickly among individuals who have not prepared to avoid it. Sharing utensils or drinks with someone who is carrying the virus is one of the most typical methods for getting it as is shaking hands or touching door handles.
If you’re in an office, avoid touching:
- Keyboard and computer mouse
- Copy and fax machines
- Elevator buttons
- Coffee machines
The workplace is a great incubator for flu germs as the virus is spread so easily between people. With offices buttoned up tight to keep out the winter cold there is nowhere for the virus to go. Workers are encouraged to wash their hands regularly, avoid shaking hands during flu season, and keep disinfectant wipes available for desks, phones, and other shared surfaces.
Get a flu vaccine
While the vaccine may not encompass all of the possible forms of flu viruses that are spread, it does cover the most common. There have long been concerns about flu vaccines and their overall safety. Any vaccine has risks but the benefits will largely outweigh those apprehensions.
During the flu season which began in late 2013 and lasted through February of 2014 studies showed that the most severe cases of the flu reported were among young unvaccinated adults. Duke University Hospital noted that this past year’s flu season showed that previously healthy young people in their 20s had the highest levels of hospitalizations in their medical system. Some of these cases included the H1N1 virus which was the cause of a pandemic in 2009. Individuals who were vaccinated, even among high-risk groups, have a better chance of not getting a case of the flu that requires hospitalization and advanced treatments.
A study published by the American College of Allergy, Asthma and Immunology indicated that children previously believed ineligible for the flu shot aren’t actually at risk from the vaccination. Children with egg allergies had been previously excluded from the vaccination which could prevent them from contracting the flu. However, the trace amounts of egg in the vaccine are not considered a problem for these children, according to experts. This is most important among children with asthma which often goes hand in hand with other allergies such as those to eggs.
Everyone should be able to get a flu shot but it is most critical for the very young and the very old as well as individuals with chronic respiratory conditions, such as asthma.
Prevent the spread of germs
There are everyday actions that people can take to stop the spread of flu like the suggestions above. Other suggestions include:
- Avoid contact with sick people
- Cover your nose and mouth when you sneeze or cough
- Wash your hands
- Avoid touching your eyes, nose, and mouth
- Clean surfaces that may have come in contact with flu germs
Try natural preventatives
Adding Vitamin C supplements in the right amounts is a good idea year-round, but it may also help fight off viral infections like the flu.
Start using more at the beginning of flu season and increase the dose if you get sick. Take the supplements in 500 milligram increments to allow your body to absorb the nutrient properly.
Further, try oil of oregano. Not only is oregano great for pizza sauce, it also has strong antiviral properties. Neither a cold nor the flu is caused by bacteria so an antibiotic does nothing to stop the symptoms. Try using oil of oregano in a bit of water or in a diffuser.
At -home treatments for flu season
Many people just wait out the virus and suffer with the symptoms rather than seeking treatment but this can cause additional complications. Once you know whether or not your runny nose, cough, and sore throat is caused by a cold or flu, there are many ways to treat a mild case right at home. If needed, visit a doctor for more help.
The flu can cause dehydration quickly so drinking plenty of fluids is extremely important. Water is always the best option but herbal tea or a sports drink would be fine as well.
However, make sure you stay away from caffeinated drinks and alcoholic drinks. Caffeine is a diuretic and won’t help replenish any fluids. Alcohol will make you tired and you’ll already be tired from the flu. An herbal tea, especially with honey, can be soothing as well as rehydrating.
Whatever you do, don’t try to do too much of it.
In our culture we always feel the need to be on the go so it may be tempting to ignore the symptoms and push through, but this can cause the virus to linger for longer. Don’t go to work (and accidentally spread the virus there). Get some help at home. Really listen to your body and rest because that will be the quickest way to recovery.
Homemade chicken soup
Whether the effects are purely emotional or not, chicken soup for the sick has been one of the most widely used home remedies in our culture. The soup itself may not have any healing properties but it can certainly make you feel better.
Hot soup does have some benefits. The steam helps with breathing and the heat helps to soothe an achy throat. However, when it comes to holistic health it is important to take the entire person into account and if chicken soup simply makes you feel better, like a security blanket or a favorite movie, then by all means enjoy the simple pleasures of it.
Sometimes the flu doesn’t run its course as expected. If you need a little more firepower to stop the symptoms and get back on your feet there are a few over-the-counter remedies that you can try.
- Ibuprofen or acetaminophen: Non-steroidal anti-inflammatory medications can help relieve the aches and pains associated with the flu. You may also wish to take a medication with a fever reducer.
- Decongestants and cough medicines: Over-the-counter cough medicines can help relieve the nasal congestion and coughing symptoms that you may be experiencing.
- Multi-symptom flu medications: If you prefer, you can treat everything at once with an all-in-one medication. However, it is important to note that if you do not have all the symptoms listed you may be taking drugs that you don’t need.
It is always important to read labels, understand the risks, and use the medication properly.
Of course, it is also important to monitor yourself, children, or older adults for complications. If the flu hasn’t run its course in a week, you should speak with a doctor and rule out any additional concerns such as pneumonia.
What are some of the home remedies that you’ve used to treat the flu once you’ve caught it? How else do you start preparing for flu season in your home?