As the flu (or to give it its proper name, influenza) season approaches, it makes sense to prepare some home remedies to reduce its most severe effects. The flu season in the northern hemisphere begins in October and lasts until March. It occurs during the dark season and peaks in December, January, and February, though this can vary. Even though this is the most common time to catch the flu, it can strike at any moment during the year.
The flu is not something to be taken lightly because it can range from extremely mild to very severe. The symptoms appear abruptly and can involve any or all of the following.
- Fever - though not everyone has a fever.
- Chills - feeling cold despite a fever.
- cough - persistent, often dry and hacking.
- sore throat - scratchy or painful throat
- runny or stuffy nose - similar to the common cold.
- muscle or body pains
- headaches - often severe
- lethargy - profound tiredness and weakness.
- vomiting and diarrhoea may occur, though this is more prevalent in children than adults.
First things first:
Before we go into the problems of the flu and the best ways to treat it at home, let's examine the key differences between the flu and the regular cold. Since they are both contagious viruses that share many of the same symptoms, it makes a lot of sense to know the difference between them and to keep the following table inside the medicine cabinet for a quick evaluation in the event that a member of the family has been ill with any of the symptoms. If you are unsure which virus, it is, consult the table below.
Signs and symptoms
The majority of individuals who contract the flu will feel well within a few days to less than two weeks, but some people will develop problems as a result of the flu, and some of these complications can be life-threatening and even result in death.
- Pneumonia is a significant flu complication that can develop from an infection with the flu virus alone or from a co-infection of the flu virus and bacteria.
- Sinus and ear infections are examples of moderate complications that can be caused by the flu, whereas pneumonia is one of the more serious ones.
- Inflammation of the heart (myocarditis),
- Inflammation of the brain (encephalitis),
- Inflammation of the muscle tissues (myositis, rhabdomyolysis)
- Multi-organ failure (for example, respiratory and kidney failure) are also possible catastrophic complications that can be caused by the flu.
- Sepsis. An intense inflammatory reaction in the body is one of the truly significant problems that can be triggered by a flu virus infection of the respiratory tract. This strong inflammatory response in the body can lead to sepsis, which is the life-threatening response that the body has when it detects an infection.
- Chronic medical conditions. The severity of chronic medical conditions may potentially be exacerbated by the flu. For instance, people who have asthma may experience asthma episodes while they have the flu, and people who have chronic heart disease may experience a worsening of this illness that is induced by the virus.
People who are more at risk from the flu
Even healthy people can become ill with the flu, and serious complications associated to the flu can affect people of any age. However, certain people have a significantly increased risk of developing serious flu-related complications in the event that they become ill with the flu. This comprises persons who are 65 years old or older, people of any age who have certain chronic medical illnesses (such as asthma, diabetes, or heart disease), pregnant women, and children younger than 5 years old, but particularly those younger than 2 years old. Also included in this category are those who are older than 65 years old who are pregnant.
So, when it is time to become alarmed and realise the flu has moved beyond home care.
The following are some of the symptoms in children.
- Breathing difficulties or rapid breathing
- Lips or face with a blue tinge
- As the child tries to breathe, his ribs move inwards.
- Tenderness and pain in the chest
- Refusing to walk because of severe muscle pain.
- Long periods of no urine, no tears, and a dry mouth all indicate severe dehydration.
- Not interacting or paying attention
- Fever of more than 104 degrees Fahrenheit that is not managed by standard fever-reducing medication.
- Cough that appears to improve, then returns and worsens.
For adults, the symptoms requiring medical intervention are relatively similar.
• Trouble breathing or shortness of breath
• Pain or pressure in the chest that doesn't go away
• Constant dizziness, confusion, or failure to wake up
• Not being able to urinate
• Severe muscle pain
• Severe weakness or unsteadiness
• Fever or cough that gets better, then comes back or gets worse
• Chronic health problems getting worse
Since both the cold and the flu are caused by viruses, antibiotics won't work against the virus itself, but they might work against an infection that comes along with it. Early in the season, it is important to eat well, stay warm, and exercise sufficiently to build up the immune system so that it can fight off any infection.
- Vitamins and Minerals: Ensure you get plenty of vitamins and minerals, particularly Vitamin C, Vitamin D, and Zinc. These can be found in foods like citrus fruits, leafy greens, nuts, seeds, and fortified dairy products.
- Protein: Incorporate lean sources of protein like poultry, fish, beans, and tofu. If eating beef get grass-fed beef if possible. Protein is essential for building and repairing tissues and plays a crucial role in immune function.
- Fruit and Vegetables: These are rich in antioxidants and the more colourful the better.
- Probiotics: There is such a range available today that we are spoiled for choice. They help the gut microbiota so yogurt, kefir and sauerkraut should be on the menu.
- Whole grains: Whole grains are a better buy than white processed ones and can include rice, pasta, quinoa, and whole wheat bread.
- Cut out sugar: It is really no good so sugary drinks and sweet cakes etc. need to be kept to the minimum. Look always at the ingredient label and see how much sugar is in anything you buy. Sugar is really a TREAT for special occasions.
- Fish: fish gives us the omega 3 fatty acids but so do flaxseed and walnuts. All are necessary for our immune system but also our brains. Take a close look at a walnut – it looks like a brain.
- Drink: reduce the alcohol but take plenty of water.
So how do you treat the flu if you get it?
- Drink lots of water
- Take some over-the-counter (OTC) remedies to reduce the fever and relieve pain.
- Steam. Cover your head with a towel and inhale steam from a bowl of hot water.
- Herbs. Elderberry and echinacea. This combination can be bought OTC and can be very effective.
Yarrow, mint, and elderberry is another mixture that helps break up heat, lower temperature, and boost immunity. You can still pick yarrow and elderberries, and you can usually get fresh mint, or a mint teabag all year long. Make a tea with the berries, strain it, and add it to a yarrow and mint tea. As soon as you start to feel sick, take this tea freely.
Yarrow is well-known for its ability to promote perspiration, which can aid with fever relief. Mint contains chemicals that have antipyretic (fever-reducing) effects, such as menthol. Menthol can generate a cooling sensation and may aid in the reduction of body temperature, making it a popular ingredient in fever-relief medicines. Elderberries include chemicals that help limit influenza virus proliferation and regulate immune response. A study published in the Journal of International Medical Research (2004)1 discovered that taking elderberry extract within the first 48 hours of flu onset can considerably lessen the duration and intensity of symptoms. Another interesting study suggested that taking elderberry significantly reduced the duration of a cold and its severity in people taking long haul flights.2
Prepare for the flu season now by ensuring a well-stocked home herbal cabinet that includes elderberry, yarrow and mint.
1Zakay-Rones Z, Thom E, Wollan T, Wadstein J. Randomized study of the efficacy and safety of oral elderberry extract in the treatment of influenza A and B virus infections. J Int Med Res. 2004;32(2):132-140
2Tiralongo E, Wee SS, Lea RA. Elderberry Supplementation Reduces Cold Duration and Symptoms in Air-Travellers: A Randomized, Double-Blind Placebo-Controlled Clinical Trial. Nutrients. 2016; 8(4):182. https://doi.org/10.3390/nu8040182