Waiting out the Flu: Symptoms and Duration of Flu Infections
Right now, it is impossible to go anywhere without hearing about the novel coronavirus. While the world searches for the right antiviral medication to make a vaccine, it can feel like this nasty new bug has taken over our lives.
This isn’t the first time a virus has stolen the show and disrupted life. Every year humans wage a global battle against influenza, even calling the cooler months “flu season.” Nearly all of us have had the flu at some point, and likely gotten a flu shot to try to fend it off.
For those of us who are healthy, waiting out the coronavirus pandemic seems to be taking forever. Ask anyone who currently has the flu and they will tell you being sick lasts an eternity. This begs the question: regardless of how long it seems to take, how long does the flu last?
What is the Flu?
Influenza, or the flu, is not one kind of sickness, but a term we use to cover infections from several different viruses. There are many different strains of the flu, and though infections can be severe, the kinds of virus that cause the flu are not as numerous as those associated with some other illnesses. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) lists more than 200 different viruses that can cause the common cold. Thankfully, the flu is caused by a smaller number of viruses.
Some people may wonder why we are told to get a flu shot every year, but still have to fight our way through flu season. Though the flu vaccine exists, it only works on certain strains of the influenza virus, and a flu shot cannot protect you against every strain at once.
As a respiratory virus, the influenza virus attacks the lungs, and upper respiratory system. This doesn’t mean the rest of your body gets to sit the infection out, as your immune system will be going into overdrive to fight off the infection. A flu infection is a whole-body experience that can leave you down for the count for several days.
The flu is generally differentiated from the common cold by the severity of your symptoms and how long you feel sick. Both the flu and the common cold can start with a sore throat and body aches, but some of the more severe symptoms such as vomiting, and intense exhaustion, are unique to the flu.
What are the Symptoms of the Flu?
The list below will be all too familiar to most of us. Not everyone who has the flu will experience the same symptoms, but nearly everyone who has the flu will have at least a few of these. You do not need to experience the full list of flu symptoms to be diagnosed, but here are some of the most common:
- high fever
- muscle aches
- extreme exhaustion or weakness
- sore throat
- runny nose
- dry cough
How Long Does it Usually Take to Get Over the Flu?
Typically a bout of the flu can last between three to seven days. Some symptoms such as a dry cough and fatigue can persist for up to eight weeks. Taking antiviral drugs like Tamiflu (oseltamivir) can shorten the duration of flu symptoms, and it may even lower the risk of serious complications.
How long it will take you to go from the first sneeze or body ache to fully recovered will depend on what strain of the flu you caught and how well your immune system deals with it. Age or the presence of other chronic illnesses also play a factor in how long a flu complications last.
For older individuals, very young children, pregnant women, and those at high risk of infection, the respiratory symptoms of the flu can be quite severe. Especially for the elderly, your body could be weakened by fighting off the flu, leaving your immune system temporarily unable to protect you from secondary infections.
What Are the Stages of the Flu?
Every infection is different, but it can be helpful to have an idea of what you should expect when symptoms start. Flu infections can start very quickly, and tracking the progress of symptoms can help you know whether you have a nasty cold or if you are up against something serious.
Flu symptoms typically begin within the first four days after being infected with the flu virus. The first signs are often chills, headache, a sore throat, fatigue, and muscle aches. How quickly and how intensely these first symptoms come on can be a clue to what is coming next.
As your body continues to fight off the infection, over the next few days your skin may become flushed and warm, and you will begin to experience respiratory symptoms such as a stuffy nose, coughing, and congestion. Vomiting can also occur at this early stage, which can be a signal for some people that they do, in fact, have the flu rather than a cold.
The next two to three days after severe symptoms start will likely be quite miserable. Your coughs and runny nose may start to produce more phlegm and fatigue may increase as body aches continue.
After three to five days, most of the severe symptoms of the flu will usually subside. For the next several days you may still have a runny nose, persistent cough, and will likely still be tired and lethargic. A dry cough and fatigue may extend out as many as two to eight weeks after your initial infection.
Dealing with the Flu During a Pandemic
Most flu symptoms can be treated with simple home remedies and over-the-counter medication such as Tylenol or ibuprofen for body aches. Going to the doctor may be necessary, though, if your symptoms are starting to become severe or if you are in a high-risk category for serious complications from the flu.
During the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic, there are new concerns about the flu, as it can share symptoms with the coronavirus. With some COVID-19 patients experiencing only mild, flu-like symptoms, there is now one more option to look out for when you start feeling ill. The relatively harmless common cold, the potentially dangerous flu, and the very serious coronavirus all look similar at the beginning of an infection. The only way to tell for sure is to get tested to see what kind of bug has brought you down.
The CDC has released guidelines on how to identify the coronavirus from other illnesses. One of the most distinct symptoms is extreme shortness of breath. If you have been feeling sick and suddenly begin to experience more serious complications such as a sense of pressure on the chest, confusion, bluish lips, or other signs of a lack of oxygen, seek medical attention immediately.
There is nothing good about a pandemic, but one side effect of people being concerned about the coronavirus is workplaces and schools are suddenly more tolerant of letting people stay home and get plenty of rest if they are sick.
Staying home, being sure to drink plenty of fluids, and getting a lot of rest will not only help you recover faster, but it will also help stop the flu spread that often happens when people go back to work or school while they are still contagious.
When to See Your Doctor About the Flu
Most of us don’t need to run to the doctor’s office for every sniffle, but if you are in a high risk category for severe complications from the flu, you should seek medical attention if your symptoms suggest you may have more than a cold.
More importantly, if you are experiencing severe shortness of breath or other symptoms listed by the CDC as being associated with a COVID-19 infection, you should seek medical attention and get tested to determine whether you might have the coronavirus. TrustCare offers seven-day-a-week COVID-19 testing to help you know as quickly as possible what kind of infection you are up against.
The flu does not wait until you have an opening in your calendar to strike. That is one reason TrustCare’s walk-in clinics are open every day. If you are experiencing some of the more severe symptoms of the flu listed here, you should see a doctor as soon as you can.
The best line of defense against the flu is to get a flu shot each year. Though this is not a guarantee you will not get sick, it does vaccinate you against the strains you are most likely to come into contact with that year. Visit a TrustCare location today to give yourself the best chance of getting through this flu season unscathed.