As the warm summer air turns into brisk autumn winds, flu season begins. The flu, short for influenza, is a contagious viral infection that can cause mild to severe illness, and even lead to life-threatening complications among vulnerable individuals . Each year, flu season causes a surge in infections, leading to an increase in absences from work, reduced productivity, and overall discomfort/inability to perform daily tasks. Thankfully, we can address flu myths and provide plenty of ways to safeguard yourself and your loved ones by knowing how to stay healthy during flu season.
What is the Flu?
As previously mentioned, the flu is a viral infection that is primarily spread through respiratory droplets produced when an infected person coughs, sneezes, or talks close to other individuals. There are 3 main types of human-affecting influenza viruses: A, B, and C. Influenza A and B viruses are the cause of seasonal flu outbreaks, while influenza C is responsible for mild respiratory illness, and is less common .
What are Common Signs or Symptoms of the Flu?
Symptoms of the flu include a range of mild to severe symptoms, such as fever, chills, cough, sore throat, runny or stuffy nose, muscle or body aches, headaches, fatigue, and even gastrointestinal issues like nausea, vomiting, or diarrhea .
How to Prevent the Flu with Shots and Vaccinations
Because there are constantly new strains of the flu, every person should get vaccinated each year. The flu vaccine is designed to stimulate your body’s immune response against specific strains of the virus. While the vaccine may not guarantee complete immunity, it can significantly reduce the severity and duration of the illness if you were to contract the flu. Flu vaccinations are recommended for most individuals above the age of 6 months, particularly those in high-risk groups, like seniors or those with respiratory conditions .
How to Get a Flu Shot
The great news is that getting a flu shot is a very straightforward process. There are multiple places where you can receive one, such as your doctor’s office, most pharmacies, public health clinics, and even some workplaces. The ideal time to get a flu shot is in the early fall before the flu season officially begins. Flu shots are usually made available from late summer to early spring, so make an appointment earlier rather than later!
If you have any concerns regarding getting a flu vaccination, consult with your primary care provider.
Other Ways to Prevent the Flu
Although there’s no way to 100% guarantee you won’t contract the flu, there are many ways to help reduce your chance of catching it. Along with getting vaccinated, try these strategies :
- Practice Good Hygiene: Properly washing your hands with soap and water for at least 20 seconds is an essential habit to adopt to protect against the flu and other illnesses. Additionally, avoid touching your face, especially your eyes, nose, and mouth. Touching these vulnerable areas can easily transfer germs from your hands to entry points. If you cough or sneeze, cover your mouth with a tissue or your elbow, which can prevent the spread of the virus to others.
- Get Adequate Sleep: Strive to get 7-9 hours of quality sleep each night. Getting adequate sleep is crucial for your overall health and immune function, which can help fight against the flu and make you less likely to catch it.
- Manage Stress: Prolonged stress can weaken your immune system, making you more likely to contract the flu. To combat this, engage in relaxation techniques, like meditation, yoga, and spending time in nature.
Natural Remedies for the Flu
If you do contract the flu, many natural remedies can help alleviate its symptoms and promote a faster recovery, such as :
- Staying hydrated: Drink plenty of fluids, like water, tea, and clear broths, to stay hydrated and help thin mucus secretions.
- Drinking herbal teas: Ginger and chamomile tea can help relieve nausea and reduce inflammation. Echinacea and elderberry teas are also known for their immune-stimulating effects. Tea, in general, has soothing properties and can help ease the soreness of your throat.
- Inhaling Steam: Steam inhalation can help ease congestion and reduce nasal inflammation and pressure. To do this, fill a bowl with hot water, drape a towel over your head to create a tent, and breathe in the steam for a few minutes.
- Gargling with Salt Water: Gargling with warm salt water can help soothe a sore throat and reduce inflammation. To do this, mix a half-teaspoon of salt into a cup of warm water and gargle it several times a day.
- Consuming Honey: Honey has antibacterial and soothing properties that can help ease coughs and sore throats. Adding a spoonful of honey to warm water, or tea, or just consuming it on its own is a great idea!
- Increasing Vitamin C, Zinc, and Probiotic Intake: Vitamin C-rich foods, like citrus fruits, strawberries, kiwis, and bell peppers can be consumed to help support your immune system. Zinc can help shorten the duration of the flu if taken within 24 hours of symptom onset. Zinc can be taken in tablet form, or through Zinc-rich foods, like nuts, seeds, legumes, and whole grains. Finally, consuming probiotics through tablets or probiotic-rich foods, like yogurt, can help support gut health and strengthen the immune system.
When to Seek Medical Attention for the Flu
Although natural remedies can help with flu symptoms, it is important to reach out for medical attention if symptoms get bad enough. Seek medical help if you experience difficulty breathing, persistent chest pain, severe dehydration, confusion, or bluish lips or face . Early treatment is crucial for those especially in high-risk groups, as they are more vulnerable to flu complications.
Treatment and Flu Shots for Seniors at Greater Good
Staying healthy during flu season is extremely important, and requires a combination of preventative measures, healthy habits, and community-wide effort. Taking these steps not only protects yourself but also helps protect vulnerable individuals from the flu and complications that may come with it. Let’s make flu season a time of proactive health protection and support for one another through flu treatment for adults who are older. Contact us today to schedule a senior primary care appointment with Greater Good Health to receive flu shots or treatment. Find a senior care clinic near you.