Everything You Need to Know About the Flu
The common cold and the flu may seem similar at first. They’re both respiratory illnesses and can cause similar symptoms. But different viruses cause these two conditions. Your symptoms help you tell the difference between them.
Both a cold and the flu share a few common symptoms. People with either illness often experience:
- runny or stuffy nose
- body aches
- general fatigue
As a rule, flu symptoms are more severe than cold symptoms.
Another distinct difference between the two is how serious they are. Colds rarely cause other health conditions or problems. But the flu can lead to sinus and ear infections, pneuminia,and sepsis.
To determine whether your symptoms are from a cold or from the flu, you need to see your doctor. Your doctor will run tests that can help determine what’s behind your symptoms.
If your doctor diagnoses a cold, you’ll only need to treat your symptoms until the virus has run its course. These treatments can include using over the counter (OTC) cold medications, staying hydrated, and getting plenty of rest.
Taking flu medicine early in the virus’ cycle may help reduce severity of illness and shorten the time that you are sick. Rest and hydration are also beneficial for people with the flu. Much like the common cold, the flu just needs time to work its way through your body.
Here are some of the common symptoms of the flu.
The flu almost always causes an increase in your body temperature. This is also known as a fever. Most flu-related fevers range from a low-grade fever around 100°F (37.8°C) to as high as 104°F (40°C).
Although alarming, it’s not uncommon for young children to have higher fevers than adults. If you suspect your child has the flu, see your doctor.
You may feel “feverish” when you have an elevated temperature. Symptoms include chills, sweats, or being cold despite your body’s high temperature. Most fevers last for less than one week, usually around three to four days.
A dry, persistent cough is common with the flu. The cough may worsen, becoming uncomfortable and painful. You may also experience shortness of breath or chest discomfort during this time. Many flu-related coughs can last for about two weeks.
These flu-related muscle pains are most common in your neck, back, arms, and legs. They can often be severe, making it difficult to move even when trying to perform basic tasks.
Your first symptom of the flu may be a severe headache. Sometimes eye symptoms, including light and sound sensitivity, go along with your headache.
Feeling tired is a not-so-obvious symptom of the flu. Feeling generally unwell can be a sign of many conditions. These feelings of tiredness and fatigue may come on fast and be difficult to overcome.
Influenza is a serious virus that leads to many illnesses each year. You don’t have to be young or have a compromised immune system to get gravely ill from the infection. Healthy people can get sick from the flu and spread it to friends and family.
In some cases, the flu can even be deadly. Flu-related deaths are most common in people age 65 and older but can be seen in children and young adults.
The best and most efficient way to avoid the flu and prevent spreading it is to get a vaccination. The flu vaccine is available as an injectable shot. The more people get vaccinated against the flu, the less the flu can spread. Vaccination can also help shorten the time that you are sick and can reduce the symptoms.
How does the flu shot work?
To make the vaccine, scientists select the strains of the flu virus that research suggests will be the most common in the coming flu season. Millions of vaccines with those strains are produced and distributed.
Once you receive the vaccine, your body begins producing antibodies against those strains of the virus. These antibodies provide protection against the virus. If you come into contact with the flu virus at a later point, you can avoid an infection.
You may get sick if you end up coming into contact with a different strain of the virus. But the symptoms will be less severe because you had the vaccination.
Who should get the flu shot?
Doctors recommend that everyone over the age of six months receive the flu vaccine. This is especially true for people in high-risk categories, like:
- children under age 5 (especially children under age 2)
- adults who are at least 65
- women who are pregnant or up to two weeks postpartum
- people with chronic medical conditions that weaken their immune systems
Most doctors also recommend that everyone gets their flu vaccine by the end of October. This way your body has time to develop the right antibodies before flu season kicks into gear. It takes about two weeks for antibodies to develop against the flu after vaccination.
Most people recover from the flu in about one week. But it may take several more days for you to feel back to your usual self. It’s not uncommon to feel tired for several days after your flu symptoms have subsided.
It’s important to stay home from school or work until you’ve been free of fever for at least 24 hours (and that’s without taking fever-reducing medications). If you have the flu, you’re contagious a day before your symptoms appear and up to five to seven days afterward.
Many people report avoiding the flu vaccine each year for fear that it will make them sick. It’s important to understand that the flu vaccine can’t cause you to develop the flu. You aren’t going to become sick because you received the vaccine. Flu vaccines contain dead flu virus. These strains aren’t strong enough to cause an illness.
However, you may experience some side effects from the flu shot. These side effects are often mild and only last a short period of time. The side effects of a shot outweigh the possible symptoms of a flu infection later.
The most common side effects of the flu shot include:
- soreness around the flu shot injection site
- low-grade fever in the days immediately following the injection
- mild aches and stiffness
Any side effects that do occur often last only a day or two. Many people won’t experience any side effects.
On rare occasions, some people may have a serious allergic reaction to the vaccination. If you’ve had an allergic reaction to any vaccine or medication before, talk with your doctor.