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What to do if you’ve got the flu

Ahmit Mehta

By AHMIT MEHTA

Even if you wash your hands often and try your hardest to avoid those who are sick, there’s still a chance you’ll come down with the flu this season.

While getting the flu shot is still the best way to prevent getting the flu, it’s not a guarantee that you’ll avoid it altogether. Although the flu vaccine provides protection, can lessen the severity of symptoms and reduce complications in at-risk young children and older adults, it’s not 100 percent effective at preventing the flu. That’s why it’s important to know how to treat the flu when it strikes. If you’ve got it, there’s no cure. However, there are some things you can do to ease your discomfort and shorten the duration of your symptoms.

Flu symptoms and remedies to help ease them

Flu symptoms extend beyond those of a bad cold and often include fever, nausea and severe body aches. It’s important to treat the symptoms effectively, since they can lead to other health issues, like dehydration.

If you or a loved one has the flu, the following tips can help ease the symptoms. However, before trying any of these remedies at home, be sure to talk with your doctor about how to best treat your illness.

— Fatigue: The only way to treat the fatigue associated with the flu is to stay home from work or school and get the rest your body needs. The fatigue you feel happens because your body is working overtime to battle the influenza virus.

— Aches, pains and fever: Over-the-counter pain relievers such as ibuprofen (Advil, Motrin) and acetaminophen (Tylenol) can help reduce your aches and lower your fever. If you do take any over-the-counter meds, pay close attention to the medication ingredients and warning labels, since many cough and flu medicines contain ibuprofen or acetaminophen also.

No matter how bad you feel, certain at-risk individuals should not take any over-the-counter medicines without talking to their doctor first. Medications, even those you can buy without a prescription, can be harmful to those with liver, stomach or blood pressure issues.

— Nausea and vomiting: Vomiting can lead to dehydration, which can make your nausea worse. Drink plenty of clear fluids, broths or sports drinks to stay hydrated and avoid this vicious cycle. Ginger ale and peppermint tea can also help. If you can’t keep anything down, your doctor may be able to prescribe a medication to help reduce your nausea.

— Sore throat and congestion: Lozenges or cough drops can help ease a sore throat but may be hard to tolerate if you’re dealing with nausea and vomiting. Using a humidifier can help relieve the irritation caused by dry indoor air that’s common in the winter. You can also try breathing in the steam from your shower or a pot of hot water to help keep your nasal passages clear. Saline nose sprays can also help reduce sinus congestion – they’re even safe for young kids.

Home remedies can really help reduce your flu symptoms. However, your first action should be a call to your doctor. They can help confirm and manage your symptoms and may even prescribe an antiviral medication, such as Tamiflu, to help shorten the duration of your illness.

It’s not too late to get a flu shot

If you haven’t received your flu shot yet, it’s not too late – even if you’ve already had the flu. The flu season typically lasts from October through May, with activity peaking between late November and March. Even though the flu shot isn’t 100 percent effective, it’s still your best protection against getting the flu.

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Dr. Amit Mehta is a family medicine physician with Geisinger and the co-department director of Geisinger community medicine.

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