Here's How to Safely Treat Flu Symptoms, According to Doctors

woman sick in bed


As we all hunker down in the wake of COVID-19, we're mostly focused on the virus that has impacted our daily lives to a startling degree. We're practicing social distancing, placing daily FaceTime calls to loved ones, and stocking up on canned food. And this makes sense: Coronavirus poses a threat to millions of people worldwide.

COVID-19 associated symptoms are top of mind right now, but let's not forget that flu season hasn't exactly ended yet, and the flu is pretty terrible too: The CDC estimates that the flu has resulted in between 9 million and 45 million illnesses, 140,000 and 810,000 hospitalizations and between 12,000-61,000 deaths annually since 2010.

Yup, those are some pretty startling statistics, and unfortunately there's a lot of misinformation surrounding the flu. In fact, a four-year-old boy passed away this year after his mother didn't pick up a doctor's prescription for tamiflu, instead taking advice from parents in an anti-vaxxer Facebook group who recommended natural remedies like lavender herbs and peppermint oil.

In an effort to safely prevent and effectively treat the flu for the remainder of this flu season and the flu seasons to come, here are the doctor-recommended prevention measures and remedies you should know about.

Meet the Expert

Dr. Nicole Swiner is a family medicine/general medicine expert, covering a broad spectrum of both medical and mental health issues. As a wife and mother of two, she uses real-life experiences to clearly communicate keys to better health and wellness for mind, body and spirit.

What Flu Symptoms Look Like

First, let's talk symptoms—and how flu symptoms differ from the symptoms of Coronavirus. "They can be very similar, but the three cardinal ones of Coronavirus are high fever, cough and shortness of breath," says Nicole Swiner, MD. If you have the flu, you're more likely to also experience a runny or stuffy nose, body aches, and a headache.

The Flu Symptoms:

  • Runny or stuffy nose
  • Body Aches
  • Headaches

COVID-19 Symptoms:

  • High fever
  • Cough
  • Shortness of breath

How to Prevent The Flu

Do you shrug off the flu shot every year, thinking it won't do much for you? That's not the best idea: Dr. Nicole Swiner says the flu shot is still the very best way to prevent the flu (although it's a little late in the season for it now). "Other than that, the best ways to prevent transmission of the flu include increasing your immune system with things, like vitamin C, zinc and elderberry, hydration, more sleep, and washing your hands often with soap and warm water."

What to Do If You Have the Flu

Whether you suspect you have the flu or you get an official diagnosis from a doctor, it's crucial that you take action sooner rather than later. If a doctor prescribes you something (like tamiflu), it's important that you follow their instructions. "If you are tested positive for the flu in a medical setting, within three days of the start of symptoms, antivirals can be prescribed for treatment," explains Dr. Swiner.

She adds that outside of medication, conservative measures such as medications and natural treatments for reducing fever, nausea and diarrhea and increasing rest and hydration are helpful. 

While we're all focusing on how to prevent COVID-19 from spreading at the moment, it's important to take measures to avoid spreading the flu as well, as it's highly contagious. If you're already taking measures to avoid spreading coronavirus, very similar action steps can be applied to the flu. "Sanitize your area, wash your hands, and staying home when sick can help spread," says Dr. Swiner. "Also, if family members or contacts of infected patients want preventive antivirals, those are also available and helpful."

Got all that? If you've already been taking many of these action steps, keep them up —you could be saving your own life and the lives of others. 

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