Fever, body aches, headache, fatigue, cough and sore throat—these symptoms, especially when they come on suddenly, may point to the flu, a very contagious respiratory illness caused by the influenza virus. Fortunately, there are steps you can take to help you recover from the flu faster and more comfortably.
The first and most important thing you can do for the flu is to get plenty of rest, giving your body the ability to focus its energy on fighting the virus. Whenever possible, stay home and get lots of sleep. Staying home and isolated will not only give you the chance to rest, but it can also help prevent the spread of the flu in the community while you’re contagious. In fact, the CDC recommends that you stay home even after your fever is gone, for up to 24 hours (except for medical care and other necessities.)
When you’re home try not to be tempted to catch up with chores and work—just stay in bed. Don’t fool yourself into thinking that spending time scrolling through social media or binging TV shows will give your body the rest you need—sleep is the key. Plenty of research has demonstrated that sleep is crucial for a well-functioning immune system, but recent research also suggests that a brain protein related to sleep can enhance healing and speed recovery from the flu.
Fluids and Nutrition
One of the most common symptoms present in the flu is a persistent or high fever. Although it’s more common in children than in adults, some people with the flu also experience vomiting and/or diarrhea. Fever, vomiting, and diarrhea can all lead to the loss of necessary fluids and electrolytes in the body. Additionally, if you have runny nose or post-nasal drip symptoms, all that mucus (yuck!) is draining fluid from your body.
Recovery can occur faster and more comfortably if you make sure to stay hydrated—not only to replace fluids lost, but also to give your body the additional energy needed to fight the flu virus. Plain old water is what’s best for your body, but tea with honey, soup or broth, or low-sugar electrolyte-enhanced sports drinks can also be a good option.
Choose a Healing Diet
Don’t let “comfort food” mean “junk food” when you have the flu. Nutritional choices will help boost your immune system. Some nutritional options while to help you recover from the flu include foods rich in:
- Vitamin C: citrus fruits, spinach, cabbage, kale, tomatoes, potatoes, red bell peppers, strawberries, broccoli
- Vitamin B6: pork, poultry, salmon, beef, liver, tofu, sweet potatoes, bananas, avocados, potatoes
- Vitamin B12: beef, fortified cereals, fish, tofu, milk, eggs, liver, turkey
- Selenium: pork, beef, tuna, shrimp, chicken, whole wheat pasta, beans (navy, pinto, lima)
- Glutathione-boosting properties: eggs, nuts, legumes, broccoli, cauliflower, fish, chicken, onions, garlic
If you’re experiencing nausea, vomiting, or diarrhea, you may want to stick to bland foods, like bread, crackers, or clear broth until you feel better.
Comfort Measures To Push Your Recovery Along
The flu can be a miserable experience—taking some basic comfort measures for symptoms may not only make it easier for you to get needed rest, but some could also speed your recovery.
A humidifier or a vaporizer can help ease discomfort from coughing or sore throat caused by dry air, making it easier to sleep. It may also help loosen up congestion, reduce swelling and irritation by moistening nasal passageways and airways, helping lungs to clear out on their own.
There are seemingly limitless over-the-counter (OTC) options to help treat symptoms of the flu. Some of the most common types of OTC medications used for flu include:
- Pain relievers, such as ibuprofen and acetaminophen to treat fever, body aches, and headache
- Decongestants, such as pseudoephedrine to help relieve sinus pressure and clear nasal passageways
- Expectorants to loosen and thin phlegm
- Cough suppressants, like dextromethorphan
It’s important to understand all the medications you take for the flu, even OTC medications. Never combine medications without first talking to your doctor or pharmacist.
When to See a Doctor
If you are able to see a doctor within 48 hours of developing flu symptoms, you may be able to receive prescription antiviral treatments. Antiviral medications may not be right for everyone and are often only prescribed for people who have severe symptoms or who are at high risk for flu complications. Antiviral medications work by preventing the flu virus from replicating. Taking them within 48 hours of the onset of symptoms may shorten your flu recovery and make your symptoms less severe.
For most people with the flu, it’s not necessary to go to the emergency room. Check out the emergency symptoms for flu if you are unsure. Urgent care can be a great option to seek appropriate care quickly when you start having flu symptoms.
If you are healthy enough, it’s generally a good idea to get the seasonal flu vaccine. The annual flu vaccine is made to protect against what scientists predict will be the most common flu strains in that given year. There are generally at least several virus strains circulating each flu season, which means that after you recover from the flu, you may want to ask your doctor if you should get a flu vaccine (if you haven’t had one yet.) It may help protect you from contracting a different strain of the flu virus.