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The flu is such a common disease, that almost everyone who has fever and cold symptoms assume they have the flu. Although real flu can be mild, its symptoms are worse than the common cold. This viral infection is caused by influenza virus A or B, but there are many strains of these viruses which develop every year. This is one of the reasons why doctors recommend getting shots, especially for individuals who are at high risk of getting infected.

Symptoms of Flu

High fever usually starts at 100 to 104F (37.8 to 40C). However, body temperatures can reach 106F (41C), especially in children. Symptoms may be more severe when fever is very high.

Fever may come and go but it is usually continuous and may be accompanied by chills.

Other symptoms include severe muscle aches, especially in the arms, legs and back, headaches, fatigue, loss of appetite and a general feeling of being sick. Pain may be felt when the eyes are moved. These symptoms may go on for 3-4 days and as the fever subsides, you may experience runny nose, dry cough, and sore throat. An otherwise healthy person who catches the flu may recover from the illness within two weeks after some rest and home-care.

Other conditions that may have similar symptoms include colds, infectious mononucleosis, and bacterial respiratory tract infection. Symptoms do not usually include stomach aches, vomiting or diarrhea.

Treatments for Flu

People who have a mild case of flu usually get better with bed rest and supportive therapy. These include getting plenty of fluids and taking acetaminophen for fever and body pains. Some doctors prescribe an oral antiviral medication, such as Tamiflu or Relenza, which is dispensed through an inhaler, early on to shorten the course of your illness and to help prevent complications in susceptible individuals.

Other home treatments include:

  • Inhaling moist air in a hot shower to relieve stuffy nose

  • Taking decongestants or nasal spray to reduce nasal stuffiness

  • Taking guaifenesin for thick nasal discharge

  • Using cough drops or dextromethorphan to relieve coughing

  • Elevating your head with a pillow at night

When to Call a Doctor

You should call a doctor when your symptoms do not improve or seem to get worse after about two weeks. You may be experiencing a complication, such as a bacterial infection, on top of the viral infection. In this case you may notice that your cough produces phlegm that is yellowish, greenish, rust-colored, or even bloody. You may also have persistent fever, sore throat, ear pain, sinus pain, and nasal drainage that changes color after more than a week. Other complication such as bronchitis, pneumonia, or sinusitis may develop and prolong your illness.

Some individuals are more likely to develop complications after a flu infection, including children younger than 5 years of age or adults older than 65. Pregnant women, obese individuals, American Indians and native Alaskans and people who have other medical conditions such as asthma, HIV, heart disease, diabetes, liver, kidney or blood disease are also at greater risk for complications from flu.

Early treatment with antiviral medications and prevention of complications will help reduce the duration and severity of symptoms.

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