Influenza (Adult)

Influenza is also called the flu. It's a viral illness that affects the air passages of your lungs. It's different from the common cold. The flu can easily be passed from one to person to another. It may be spread through the air by coughing and sneezing. Or it can be spread by touching the sick person and then touching your own eyes, nose, or mouth.

The flu starts 1 to 3 days after you are exposed to the flu virus. It may last for 1 to 2 weeks but sometimes people feel tired or fatigued for many weeks afterward. You usually don’t need to take antibiotics unless you are at high risk for or have a complication . This might be an ear or sinus infection or pneumonia.

Symptoms of the flu may be mild or severe. They can include extreme tiredness (wanting to stay in bed all day), chills, fevers, muscle aches, soreness with eye movement, headache, and a dry, hacking cough.

Antiviral medicine for the flu is available by prescription. If you start taking it within 48 hours, it may help reduce how long your symptoms last and how severe they are. Your provider may do a test to find out if you have influenza and which strain you have.

Home care

Follow these guidelines when caring for yourself at home:

  • Stay away from cigarette smoke, whether yours or other people’s.

  • Acetaminophen or ibuprofen will help ease your fever, muscle aches, and headache. Don’t give aspirin to anyone younger than 18 who has the flu. This can cause a serious condition called Reye syndrome.

  • Nausea, loose stools, and loss of appetite are common with the flu. Eat light meals. Drink 6 to 8 glasses of liquids every day. Good choices are water, sport drinks, soft drinks without caffeine, juices, tea, and soup. Extra fluids will also help loosen secretions in your nose and lungs.

  • Over-the-counter cold medicines will not make the flu go away faster. But the medicines may help with coughing, sore throat, and congestion in your nose and sinuses. Don’t use a decongestant if you have high blood pressure.

  • Stay home until your fever has been gone for at least 24 hours without using medicine to reduce fever.

Follow-up care

Follow up with your healthcare provider, or as advised, if you are not getting better over the next week.

If you are age 65 or older, talk with your provider about getting a pneumococcal vaccine every 5 years. You should also get this vaccine if you have chronic asthma or COPD. All adults should get a flu vaccine every fall. Ask your provider about this.

When to seek medical advice

Call your healthcare provider right away if you have the flu and any of these occur:

  • Cough with lots of colored mucus (sputum) or blood in your mucus

  • Chest pain, shortness of breath, wheezing, or trouble breathing

  • Severe headache, or face, neck, or ear pain

  • New rash with fever

  • Fever of 100.4°F (38°C) or higher, or as directed by your healthcare provider

  • Confusion, behavior change, or seizure

  • Severe weakness or dizziness

  • You get a new fever or cough after getting better for a few days

Also call your provider if you have flu symptoms and have a weakened immune system or are taking medicines that can weaken your immune system. These include steroids and certain anti-inflammatory medicines.

© 2000-2021 The StayWell Company, LLC. All rights reserved. This information is not intended as a substitute for professional medical care. Always follow your healthcare professional's instructions.
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