Step-by-Step: Taking Care of the Flu at Home
If you come down with the flu, you probably don't have to rush to the doctor's office. Most people recover from flu with self-care and rest. Follow these steps.
Yesterday you felt fine. Today you woke up with a sore throat, body aches and fever. And you are wiped out. These symptoms scream "flu!" Before you make an appointment to see your doctor, consider this: Experts say most people will get over the flu, swine (H1N1) flu or the seasonal variety, without medical care.
But this doesn't mean you're free to go to work or run errands. Your body needs plenty of rest to ward off the virus. These steps can help ease your pain and put you on the road to recovery.
1. Treat your symptoms
These treatments will help you recuperate:
- Rest. One of the telltale symptoms of flu is feeling very tired. This is your body's way of saying you need sleep to fight the flu. Rest is the key to recovery.
- Stay hydrated. Fluids will help loosen any mucus in your nose and throat. They will also help prevent dehydration. Choose water, juices or broth-based soups. Take in liquids that have salt and sugar, like a sports drink, if you have diarrhea or vomiting. Avoid caffeine and alcohol because they will only make dehydration worse.
- Get comfortable. To ease body aches, walk around your room a couple times a day, if you can. And change positions in your bed often. You may also have body temperature changes, varying from chills to sweating. To stay comfy:
- Dress in lightweight clothes.
- Make sure your room is cool.
- Keep extra blankets nearby.
- Don't smoke. Make sure no one in your house smokes, especially while you're sick. Smoke will only make your symptoms worse.
Here are some other ways to soothe common flu symptoms:
- If you have a fever of 101 degrees F or higher, take a fever-reducing medicine. Your doctor may suggest acetaminophen, ibuprofen or aspirin. These medicines may also help relieve body aches. Follow the package instructions carefully when you take medication. Do not give aspirin or any product containing aspirin to anyone 19 years of age or younger. It can lead to a serious condition called Reye syndrome.
- Wipe yourself down with a lukewarm wet washcloth if you:
- Have a fever of 104 degrees F or higher
- Are vomiting and cannot keep down medicine
Call your doctor right away if you have any of these symptoms.
Cough and sore throat:
- Over-the-counter cough medicines may relieve your cough. Do not take cough medicine if you have high blood pressure, heart disease or diabetes unless directed by your doctor. If you are already taking a medication - such as one to treat your fever - talk to your doctor or pharmacist first before taking another medicine. You don't want to double-dose on certain active ingredients.
- Gargle with warm salt water (use a half teaspoon of salt per eight ounces of water) and spit it out.
- Drink warm water or weak tea made with lemon and honey.
- Take throat or cough lozenges to coat your throat. Sucking on hard candy or ice chips has the same effect.
- Use a cool-mist humidifier, breathing strips, a saline spray or saltwater mist. They may make it easier for you to breathe.
- Try sitting up or keeping your head slightly raised to help ease congestion.
- Ask your doctor about a decongestant or antihistamine to relieve stuffiness. If you are already taking one medication to treat your flu symptoms, talk to your doctor or pharmacist first before taking another to avoid double-dosing certain active ingredients. Do not take any over-the-counter medicine without first checking with your doctor if you have any medical problems, take any other medicines or are allergic to certain medications.
2. Don't spread the germs
- Keep away from other people as much as possible. Stay home until 24 hours after your fever has ended without fever-reducing medicines. If you are a caretaker, ask friends or family to care for your loved ones while you're ill. If others live in your household, stay in a separate bedroom and use a separate bathroom if possible until you are better.
- Wear a facemask if you have to come into close contact with other people.
- Cover your mouth and nose when you cough or sneeze.
- Wash your hands often with soap and water. Spend at least 20 seconds washing your hands. If soap is unavailable, use an alcohol-based hand sanitizer.
3. Call the doctor if you have:
- Flu symptoms and:
- Are pregnant
- Are age 65 or older
- Have a chronic medical condition such as diabetes, heart disease or asthma
- Have a weakened immune system - for example, if you have HIV or cancer
- A fever of 104 degrees F or higher that does not go down within two hours of home treatment.
- A fever that lasts longer than three days.
- Symptoms that improve for 24 hours and then worsen.
- Symptoms that last longer than seven to 10 days.
- Chest pain when coughing or taking a deep breath.
- Green, bloody or rust colored mucus that comes up with your cough. Or, if you have mucus that becomes thick or changes in color.
- Signs of dehydration:
- Fast heart rate
- Muscle weakness
- Excessive thirst
- Extreme dry mouth
- Decreased or no urination
- Very low activity level
- Weight loss
4. Call 9-1-1 if you have any of the following:
- Trouble breathing, chest pain, severe vomiting or confusion
- Bluish coloring around lips or nails
- Sudden severe weakness or fatigue
- Sudden severe headache or any weakness, numbness, or trouble seeing, speaking or walking
- Passing out or have a seizure or convulsion