Last updated on June 18th, 2020Time to Read: 11 minutes
Flu is an acute, infectious disease caused by virus strains. It can spread directly or through droplets flying in the air (for example, from coughing). It has the potential to cause pandemics over several countries or even continents. The effects of the disease can range from quite mild to truly debilitating, so we’ve got to take it seriously. First let’s talk about what it is and how to know you have it, then we’ll get into our top home remedies for flu.
Types of the Flu
The cause of the flue is the influenza virus. There are two main types: A and B.
- Type A is more dangerous, and its H1N1 and H3N2 subtypes are the main culprits of flu pandemics since 1977.
- Type B is rarely serious.
All types of the influenza virus can quickly adapt, change and mutate, creating more and more novel subtypes. Immunity acquired against one strain doesn’t mean immunity against the others – this explains the many annual & seasonal pandemics caused by flu. These most frequently come in the winter months.
Recently, a new type of the H1N1 virus appeared, consisting of several subtypes of type A: parts of swine, bird, and human influenza viruses (flu can affect animals as well). This one has a structure that is really different from the normal H1N1 strain. Most of the human population had never met this kind of virus before (except for some people over 65 years of age) and so it had caused a worldwide pandemic.
According to the remarkable ability of the influenza virus to adapt, it is also remarkably difficult for researchers to come up with medicine that works against the newer types. It’s a constant battle between vaccines and evolving flue strains.
So how do you know if you have the flu?
Signs and Symptoms of the Flu
One of the most common early signs is a suddenly appearing high-grade fever.
This is followed by weakness, a burning sensation in the chest, lethargy, a runny nose, strong muscle pains, and headache.
Most of the time, there is a painful, dry (not productive) cough and sore throat, though airway symptoms can appear mild or completely absent.
A cough coupled with heavy chest pain indicates the need for medical attention, as it can be a sign of pneumonia, which requires treatment with antibiotics.
The first symptoms usually appear after 24-48 hours of infection. Shivering and chills are also common at that time. Fever is often present in the first few days, often reaching a temperature as high as 102+ degrees Fahrenheit.
If there is a headache, it can present itself as a stabbing head pain around and behind the eyes, and strong light can aggravate it.
There can be nausea or vomiting, especially in the case of children.
Less common symptoms include red mouth and throat, tears, mild conjunctivitis (eye inflammation).
Some symptoms usually vanish after 2-5 days, including fever. Weakness can persist for days. If there is bronchitis present, it can last for more than 10 days, and the total recovery of the airways takes about 6-8 weeks.
Difference Between Flu and the Common Cold
The early symptoms, particularly the sore throat and cough, are about the same in both cases. However, in the case of flu, the cough is not productive, and fever (if present) progresses to high grade rapidly. An important difference is that you can recover from the common cold in about a week, while in the case of flu, recovery usually takes significantly more time.
A really sore throat that causes difficulty in swallowing and pain in the ears can indicate a third scenario: inflammation of the tonsils (Tonsillitis), which usually heals over time without intervention, but needs treatment with antibiotics in more severe cases.
Possible Complications of the Flu
Even the milder forms of flu must be taken very seriously, because of the high possibility of complications.
The most frequent of them is pneumonia, which can be primary (caused directly by the virus) or secondary (caused by bacteria after viral infection). The first version can even be life-threatening. If it’s a secondary infection, beginning antibacterial treatment in time usually does the job.
People over 60 years of age are more often affected by the influenza virus, due to their reduced immune system response.
How to Prevent the Flu
Before we get into home remedies for flu, let’s see if we can prevent getting it in the first place. The most successful form of prevention in the case of flu is timely vaccination. The primary goal is to grant personal defense to people who are very susceptible to serious complications caused by the influenza virus (they have a chronic illness or are of old age).
People who work in positions of critical infrastructure or need are often given priority in getting the vaccine as well. According to the data of the World Health Organization, proper vaccination in healthy adults awards a prevention rate of 70-90%. It’s not perfect, but it’s much better than 0%.
The strain that scientists have placed in the vaccine must match the current pandemic causing strain. Vaccination reduces the need for hospitalization in the cases of elderly people by 25-39% and lethal outcomes by 35-57%.
Flu vaccines contain only a deactivated part of the virus, so they won’t cause the flu itself. What it does is trigger your body to start producing antibodies, so if the actual flue does enter your body, you’ll be prepared to kill it off quickly.
Adverse effects to the vaccine can be seen, but they are rare: local skin reactions (redness, swelling on site of injection), fever, headache. They are only present in about 20% of vaccinated patients and last no more than 48 hours.
Aside from asking for vaccination, you can make changes to your life to minimize the risk of getting infected. Avoid mass transportation during flu pandemics, take lots of Vitamin C regularly (about 1000 milligrams per day), eat raw garlic once a week, and avoid direct contact with infected people. None of this is guaranteed to prevent you from catching the flu, but it will likely help.
Home Remedies for Flu
As said before, the flu cannot be cured. The disease follows its own course until disappearing completely. But you can (and have to) manage the symptoms to prevent the complications described above. Instead of opting for expensive medicine, you can arm yourself with home remedies described below.
Drink lots of fluids
Flu can easily cause dehydration, especially when coupled with fever, vomiting, or diarrhea. Tap water is OK, but juices are better, and mineral water and sports drinks are the best. These contain nutrients and electrolytes that are great to fuel your body for defense. Avoid coffee, though, as caffeine has a diuretic effect, and your body needs a great amount of fluid content while you are sick and/or dehydrated.
Herbal teas made with honey can ease the unpleasant feeling of a sore throat. If you have nausea, take only small sips at a time to avoid vomiting.
How do you make sure that you have enough fluid in your body? Your urine should have a pale yellow color or be almost colorless. That indicates appropriate fluid intake.
What about alcoholic drinks? Don’t drink alcohol when you have flu: it depresses the nervous system and aggravates weakness and sleepiness. Oh, and it’s a diuretic as well, which is the last thing your body needs in that case.
Soups are very helpful in both flu or cold cases. They help to ease upper airway symptoms, and they make up for lost fluids and minerals.
Their method of working is not truly known – however, research suggests that certain ions in soups restore the needed balance.
Soups work the best when taken to your bed by one of your loved ones – fact.
Get plenty of rest
Getting enough rest is very important. It may sound like a cliche, but it’s true: pay attention to what your body is telling you. If you feel that you need rest, don’t force yourself to stay up on two feet. Take it easy instead, even if it means resting in bed all day and night.
Household chores can wait. Don’t make your situation go from bad to worse. Getting enough quality rest reinforces your immune system against viruses and other microorganisms. You should aim for about 8 hours of sleep per night as well.
Humidify your environment
Breathing in humid air makes your stuffy nose clear again and takes the pain of a sore throat away. One good way is to take a hot shower or sit for a while in some warm steam, while taking deep breaths. Repeat that several times a day. Another nice approach is to buy a humidifier, but pay attention to clean it regularly, so no fungi or other pollutants can remain inside.
Use steam power
Take a little short ‘sauna’ at home. Boil some water in a pot, bend over it, cover your head with a towel, and breathe in slowly for about 30-60 seconds. The effect can be increased by using a few drops of peppermint or eucalyptus oil in the water. Repeat it several times a day. Note: not recommended for people with asthma!
A moist, warm compress on your scalp or nose eases headache and sinusitis pain.
Take some throat lozenges
There are all kinds of herbal lozenges available that can help you with your sore throat or stuffed nose.
Though some doctors question their effectiveness in the case of flu, the goal is to manage the symptoms, not to cure the disease itself.
Saltwater rinse is very good at cleaning mucus in your throat that can greatly accumulate there when lying for a long time.
Saltwater is also quite beneficial for a stuffed ear, because it cleans the channels connecting the ears and the oral cavity (called Eustachian tubes).
Saltwater washing of the nose
To help your stuffed nose and reduce the deposit of mucus, wash your nose with salty water. This is recommended by doctors as well.
You can use an empty vial of nasal drops for the purpose. Put some water into one of your nostrils and blow it out on the other. A homemade mixture can also be used (made out of salt and lukewarm water).
The Navage is the best product on the market for nasal irrigation. It doesn’t just help with flu relief, but it’ll work wonders for general congestion or allergies.
Helps with cough and sore throat, but fights viruses as well. A long-standing favorite in India and China for treating cold. In the case of flu, prepare some tea: put a piece of fresh ginger into boiling water and remove after 5 minutes.
Pour the tea through a filter and add some honey and lemon. Take small sips of it throughout the day.
Paprika helps to clean the stuffing in the bronchi and sinuses. It contains capsaicin, which stimulates mucus-producing cells in the lungs and nasal cavity and aids in removing mucus as well. Eat tiny scoops of paprika, or mix in water, to relieve congestion.
Wash 2-3 unpeeled pieces of onions thoroughly and slice them. Cook them for a few minutes in a few cups of water. You can add dried chamomile for an even greater effect. Add some brown sugar and/or honey to the pot and take small sips to clear your congested throat.
Reinforcing the immune system is essential. Eat lots of fruits rich in Vitamin C (best choices are: lemons, oranges, kiwis). It’s good if you do this regularly, even when you’re not sick. This strengthens your immune system, which not only helps fight an active virus, but it helps prevent you from getting one in the first place. If you can’t or find it difficult to introduce Vitamin C into your diet, there are Vitamin C supplements like Emergen-C that make this very easy.
It has a local antibacterial effect, helps with a stuffy nose, and increases appetite. Furthermore, garlic cleans the nostrils and eases sore throat. These effects are due to its sulfur content, which gives that certain taste and odor. If you can’t stand the intense taste, fry some garlic in a little olive oil, make a paste of the thing and put it on a slice of bread.
Last but not least in our home remedies for flu, it is especially important to have one or more of your loved ones there by your side so they can help you. This is to assist with your care and prevent you from over-exerting yourself. Also, having someone close greatly accelerates healing – and that goes without saying.
Flu is a special kind of disease that requires special attention and management of symptoms. While it’s usually temporary, it can be really dangerous, so keeping up with it is of utmost importance. If you are frequently (or annually) affected by flu, consider getting a vaccine before flue season starts. Vaccination has very few side effects, and its benefits are clear.
It’s also important to distinguish between flu and the common cold, for they share many of the same symptoms (at least, initially).
A non-productive, sudden, heavy cough is a red flag, especially when coupled with quick-onset, high-grade fever.
Remember: if you have very bad symptoms and/or a fever of more than 102 degrees Fahrenheit, don’t hesitate to get prompt medical attention.
But in milder cases, home remedies for flu can help you alleviate your symptoms until they disappear. The flu follows its own distinct course. Get enough rest, take lots of Vitamin C, inhale frequently, and drink herbal teas as described above. You should be fine in a few days.
The information and advice contained in this guide is no substitute for a professional medical opinion. Please, use it accordingly and at your own responsibility.
Thank you for your attention, and we wish you a quick recovery from the flu!