21 Tips for Managing Influenza at Home
Published 2016, updated November 2017.
Influenza is rearing its ugly head! I have seen several cases recently, and I know how incredibly miserable it makes those suffering feel. They come to the ER or to the clinic begging for relief. I wanted to share some tips that might help at home. The only real "cure," for the flu is rest, time, and patience. Most people will get better with time.
Symptoms of the flu usually start rather quickly with fever, headache, body aches, cough, and just plain feeling lousy. Some people also experience nausea and vomiting. The best things you can at home do include:
1. Stay home - protect others by not exposing them. You are a public health risk if you have the flu. Don't go into public unless you really must. Send others on errands for you, and ask them to wear a mask when with you. Do not go to work. If your boss has questions, send them this information. You should not expose others to the flu.
2. Wash your hands often, cover your cough/sneeze, and don't spit on people (that's not nice anyway).
3. Stay hydrated - sip on things frequently. No need to guzzle! Lemon in water, tea, diluted orange juice (fresh is best) and bone broth are all good choices.
4. Eat if it sounds good, if not, just keep drinking. Try to get some electrolytes in (salt, and fresh fruit juices with potassium) when possible. This is why chicken broth really is good for you when you are sick.
5. Vitamin C 500mg every day, Zinc 50mg every day, and Echinacea 800 mg every day throughout your illness may help. Cut these doses in half for children under the age of 14 and do not give to children under the age of six.
6. Oregano essential oil, used in a diffuser or diluted in a carrier oil and applied to the skin (topical application is not safe in young children) may help kill viral cells. We don't have much data on influenza, but we know oregano oil does kill other viruses, and it won't likely cause harm when used correctly. *If you do not know how to use essential oils properly, please do not use them. They can be overdosed, just like other drugs.
7. When compared side-by-side in clinical trials, honey is as good as over-the-counter cough syrup (dextromethorphan) for a cough, and has none of the dangerous side effects. Never give honey or cough syrup to babies under the age of two.
8. Tamiflu or its generic, osteltamivir, shortens influenza by an average of 23 hours (in a 7-10 day illness) and may be expensive. In Europe they don't use it anymore because studies have not proven it to be more effective than Tylenol at relieving flu symptoms. In the U.S. we seem to like drugs and paying for them so it is still on the market. If 23 hours are worth the price of the doctor visit and drug for you, please read the potential side effects on this page. In order for the drug to be effective, it must be started as soon as possible after symptoms begin (ideally less than 12 hours after symptoms begin).
9. Fevers are your body's way of fighting the virus. Your body knows that you can survive the fever, but hopes the virus can't. A fever means your immune system works - yay! It doesn't feel so good but as long as the temperature can be kept below 104 (adults) and below 102F (children under 6) and you can drink fluids, it is ok to have a fever. Remember, the fever is not a disease.
10. Natural ways to control high temperatures include wearing light-weight clothing, avoiding blankets (use a light sheet only), drinking cool liquids, and taking lukewarm baths (100-110 degrees F). Do not take cold baths as these can cause shivering which makes a fever worse. "Sweating out," a fever is not recommended, as it can make temperatures go up.
11. The normal dose for acetaminophen (Tylenol) for an otherwise healthy adult is 650 - 1,000 mg every 4-6 hours. It helps with pain and fever.
12. The normal dose for ibuprofen (Advil, Motrin) is 400 mg every 6 hours WITH FOOD. Do not take ibuprofen if you have heart disease, kidney disease, or ulcers. Acetaminophen is safer for you.
13. Taking more acetaminophen than recommended can cause liver failure. You don't want a liver transplant, follow the directions. Healthy adults and teens may safely take up to 4,000 mg of acetaminophen from all sources combined in a 24-hour period. Those with liver disease can sometimes take up to half this amount (2,000 mg per day) but should always consult their physician for specific instructions.
14. Taking more ibuprofen than recommended will increase your risk of high blood pressure, heart attack, kidney failure, or ulcers, but will NOT decrease your pain more than the normal dose. So please, follow the directions.
15. If you are having trouble breathing, are vomiting so much that you aren't peeing at least 3 times per day, you have a severely stiff neck, a weird rash, or you seriously think you will not survive please see a doctor. These are all concerning symptoms.
16. If your baby is a baby, please take him or her to the doctor. Young infants and children under 6 are at higher risk for complications from influenza. If you are worried, don't wait to get a doctor's opinion.
17. Older adults may have more problems and may need to see a doctor. I will let you decide how old is old. It really is an individual thing.
18. If you are an OTHERWISE HEALTHY adult it is usually best to stay home. The doctor will tell you all the things I just did and can't really help you any more than that.
19. Those who have other illnesses such as cancer, diabetes, or other conditions should see a doctor if they are unable to manage symptoms or unable to continue their usual medications at home. If you are wondering if you should see someone, please call your doctor and report your symptoms.
20. Please, do not ask for an antibiotic. It won't help and it might hurt.
21. Lastly...please do not go to the doctor for the sole purpose of getting a flu test. Influenza tests are not 100% accurate. This means negative tests do not mean you do not have the flu, and positive tests can sometimes be wrong, too. If you have the symptoms of the flu, you should not be in public, at work, or at school. Stay home. If you have concerns that you would like to see the doctor about, then by all means, see the doctor, but getting a flu test is not a reason to go to the doctor.
I hope you are all well and do not need any of this advice!
- Abnormal Heart Rhythm
- Abnormal Liver Function Tests
- Bleeding of the stomach
- Confusion or delirium
- Erythema Multiforme
- Inflammation of the large Intestine with bleeding
- Inflammation of the small Intestine with bleeding
- Water retention
- Stevens-Johnson Syndrome
- Toxic Epidermal Necrolysis
- Feeling agitated or anxious
- Unusual behaviors
- Skin Inflammation
Angela Kerchner M.D. does not endorse companies or products. Advertising revenue supports delivery of high quality, unbiased health and wellness information developed under the direction of Avalo Health LLC.
Angela Kerchner M.D.
New Chapter: Your Health
Hey everyone, my opinions are mine and may not be the same as yours or your doctor's. You should always make your own informed decisions together with your doctor. I don't know your particular health history, and there are always exceptions to the rules. Influenza is a serious illness and many people die each year from this infection. The best way to protect yourself is by vaccination, which is known to prevent the flu and decrease the severity of the flu in those who still become infected. Fewer people die when we vaccinate! So get your flu shot if you can, and help you and your family stay healthy. If you are seriously ill, please seek medical attention immediately! Young babies and the elderly are most often at risk for complications, but anyone can get very sick from the flu.