What are the symptoms and treatments for the flu?

December 12, 2023
Avatar for Jyoti KinghornJyoti Kinghorn
Flu symptoms

This flu season, learn about the first symptoms of flu, comforting at-home remedies, and treatments to keep yourself and your family safe and healthy.

One of the most commonly encountered infectious diseases, the flu infects an estimated 20-40 million people in the U.S. every year. Who gets sick from it? Pretty much everybody. The virus affects children, adults, and seniors. Because the viruses that cause the flu (the human influenza A and B viruses) mutate so often, the immunity gained through previous infections or immunizations is often not sufficient to completely neutralize the effect of the new strains. And the symptoms can be debilitating.

Symptoms of flu in family

Symptoms of the flu


The flu comes on suddenly. Unlike the common cold, where symptoms develop gradually, flu symptoms tend to hit you all at once. After being exposed to the virus, it takes only 1-3 days for someone to start showing symptoms. In the very beginning (day 0), you may not even feel sick though you already have the flu and can spread it to others. Once symptoms begin (day 1), they will peak between days 2 and 4.

Look out for the following flu symptoms:

  • High fever which could come with feverish chills
  • Runny or stuffy nose
  • Sore throat
  • Cough
  • Headache
  • Muscle or body aches
  • Fatigue (tiredness)
  • Congestion
  • Vomiting and/ or diarrhea, seen more often in children than adults with flu

While not everyone with flu will show all of these symptoms, most people will feel pretty knocked out by the infection. Staying up-to-date on your flu shots can significantly decrease the impact of the flu on you, and the intensity of the symptoms you develop. Good at-home care can also help ease some of the symptoms.

Flu symptoms and at home remedies


Tips for managing flu symptoms at home


While it will take about a week for the flu symptoms to start easing up, you can make this time a little more comfortable by taking good care of yourself.

  1. Get plenty of rest. Getting lots of sleep and resting at home are the most important things you can do during the first five days of symptom onset. Not only are your symptoms painful and your body weak, you are also the most infectious at this time. Give your body the time it needs to fight off the virus. Staying home at this time will not only prevent you from spreading the virus to others but also protect you from getting secondary infections on top of the flu.
  2. Hydrate. Drinking lots of water during a flu can help you in many important ways.
  • Reducing headaches and body aches- electrolyte and fluid loss can cause an imbalance in your body that can worsen headaches and muscle pain. Drinking lots of fluids helps alleviate these pains.
  • Lowering fever- since water is a key regulator of your core temperature, lack of water can worsen an already existing fever.
  • Helping the immune system- your immune cells use your body fluids to travel to places of infection to fight off disease. Staying hydrated improves the fluid balance in your body.

You can up your fluid intake with comforting foods like honey and lemon tea, ginger tea, and soups. Avoid dehydrating foods like potato chips, caffeine, and alcohol.

3. Salt and water gargles. Many people find that their sore throat feels better after gargling with salt mixed in warm water. Gargling with ½ tsp of salt in 8 oz. of warm water can ease the pain and inflammation in the throat.


4. Honey. Having a few teaspoons of honey can help calm down a cough while adding some honey to your lemon and ginger tea can help calm down your throat during the flu.

5. Nasal drops or sprays. When breathing is difficult, nasal drops and sprays can help soothe the nose and ease breathing.

6. Over-the-counter medications. For adults and children over the age of 6, you may be able to use some over-the-counter medication to provide relief. The medications cannot kill the flu virus but can help improve some of your symptoms.

You might be able to take pain relievers such as Advil, Motrin, and Tylenol to help reduce headaches and body aches. Antihistamines can help promote sleep. You may also be able to use cough suppressants such as Robitussin, and decongestants such as Sudafed. However, it is important to read the product’s label carefully and use it as described, and not to mix medication and double-dose yourself.

At-home methods of relief cannot replace your physician’s care. When in doubt, call your doctor. When you suspect your child might have the flu, it may be best to take them to their pediatrician. The doctor or pediatrician may prescribe antiviral medication, but these work best when taken during the first 2 days of symptom onset, so it could be beneficial to go right away.

When to seek medical care


The flu can cause complications such as bronchitis and pneumonia. If your symptoms do not start improving after 5 days, it may be time to see a doctor. If a baby under 2 months old has a fever for any reason, rush them to the emergency room. If anyone has a fever over 104 degrees Fahrenheit which does not come down with medication, they should see their healthcare provider. Also, if it has been 5 days since symptom onset and your fever only comes down with medication, it is time to seek medical care.

The information provided in our blog posts is for informational purposes only and is not intended as a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis, or treatment. Always seek the advice of your physician or other qualified health provider with any questions you may have regarding a medical condition. Never disregard professional medical advice or delay in seeking it because of something you have read on this blog.

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