Influenza gets blamed for a lot of things. When I was a kid, anytime I got a tummy ache and tossed my cookies, I blamed it on influenza.
But really, the flu rarely affects the GI tract. A lot of people don’t realize this.
When the flu does come along, they mistake influenza for the common cold. They tend to look for cold remedies instead of flu relief.
While cold remedies will help with some symptoms of influenza, they won’t help with all. So it’s important both to know the difference between influenza and the common cold and to know what medications you can actually use for the flu.
1. The Difference Between Influenza And the Common Cold
The best rule I go by when evaluating whether I have the flu or a common cold is this: flu symptoms are more severe than those of the common cold.
The symptoms of the common cold are typically:
- Sore throat
The common cold can include some flu symptoms, which is usually the cause of confusion. Symptoms like a very low fever or slight body aches can be confused with flu symptoms of the same type.
And just like influenza, the common cold is a viral infection and will appear after three days of exposure.
When I decide whether I have the flu or a cold, I always look for fever and chills first along with very achy joints and muscles.
Influenza is an upper respiratory viral infection. It will affect the lungs and sinuses just like the common cold. So you will experience:
- Runny nose
- Deep chest congestion
- Body aches
- Fever and chills
You may experience nausea and vomiting. But a lack of nausea and vomiting shouldn’t eliminate the possibility of influenza virus.
If you are really unsure as to which viral infection you have (and just as a general rule to play it safe) go see a doctor.
2. But I Got The Flu-Shot! Why Am I Still Sick With The Flu?
I’ve met several doctors who doubt the necessity of the flu shot for adults under 50 years of age. But they still get the flu shot. Why?
If there is a chance they won’t get the flu, they’ll take that chance. Imagine if your doctor got the flu and now imagine how many people they could infect before they realize what they’ve come down with.
Getting a flu shot does not guarantee you won’t get the flu. It’s not like most vaccines.
Flu is so prevalent and mutates so quickly, there is no way to predict exactly which strain will be most active each year.
The CDC has determined, however, a link between flu vaccination and fewer flu hospitalizations in young children and adults over 50. Therefore the flu vaccine does provide relief.
The CDC has also seen a link between fewer flu hospitalizations in people with diabetes and chronic lung disease and the flu vaccine.
So, the flu vaccine is effective at helping the vulnerable stay out of the hospital. It might even give a bit of flu relief if you got your shot before getting sick.
But it’s definitely not a guarantee that you won’t get sick.
3. How Long Does Influenza Last?
The flu might stick with you longer if your health is compromised. It does affect the body and cause fatigue.
You will feel tired for a few days after major symptoms resolve.
Most of the time symptoms resolve in about a week. But you should wait to be around people until an absence of fever for a good 24 hours.
You’re not going to immediately bounce back to your full self. You should still make sure to stay hydrated and get plenty of rest after you’ve found flu relief.
4. When Is Flu Season?
If you’re going to get the flu, you’ll be looking for flu relief somewhere between the months of October and March.
The major peak for flu prevalence is in February. But you really can get the flu any time of the year. These are just the months you’re most likely to get the disease.
One of the possible reasons people get sick more in winter is a lack of Vitamin D. We spend more time inside when winter hits and we expose less of our skin to the sun.
Our skin and bodies photosynthesize Vitamin D from the sunlight. And Vitamin D boosts our immune system.
One of the best ways to prevent sickness in winter is consumption of Vitamin D, Vitamin C, and lots of water. Instead of waiting for flu relief, focus on flu prevention.
5. OTC Flu Relief
If you’re stuck with influenza, you probably feel miserable. I certainly do when I get down with the sickness.
Fortunately, there are several things you can do to both speeds up recovery and reduce symptoms. And they are all over the counter. You don’t even have to see a doctor for these treatments.
Water For Flu Relief
Alright, I know. This isn’t exactly an OTC medication. But it’s the first thing you need to put in your body.
You don’t have to use straight up water. Gatorade or Powerade are great hydration formulas.
Your body fights infections and flushes out toxins with water. And your immune system is much healthier when hydrated.
So, stay hydrated or stay sick.
Tylenol is the typical go-to when fevers and chills hit.
Any anti-inflammatory will work to reduce a fever like Ibuprofen, Aleve, or Aspirin. Any medication in the non-steroidal anti-inflammatory (NSAID) category will help.
These will also reduce inflammation in places like your sinuses and lungs. And you’ll feel a bit of flu relief if you do.
If you do experience nausea and vomiting, make sure you stay hydrated as best as possible.
But if you can’t keep anything down, you’ll need some anti-nausea meds for this type of flu relief.
Kaopectate, Dramamine, and Pepto-Bismol can alleviate these symptoms.
You can also buy specific anti-nausea medications with dextrose, levulose, and phosphoric acid as the ingredients. These ingredients can be powerful ani-emetics.
If you still experience nausea or can’t keep any of these medications or liquids down, go see a doctor right away. If you become too dehydrated, you will have to see emergency services and be hooked up to IV fluids.
Cough Medicines For Congestion And Flu Relief
Here are the medications that will be effective for both cold and flu symptoms.
If you are experiencing congestion, you should get some guaifenesin on board ASAP.
The most powerful guaifenesin is usually found in Mucinex or its generic version.
Look for tablets with 400 mg of guaifenesin or more.
Guaifenesin breaks down mucus in your sinus and lungs using a charcoal agent. Thinning out the mucus will relieve congestion and speed up the process.
It will also keep you from getting a secondary sinus infection as the mucus won’t stay in your sinuses and possibly cause an infection.
Since influenza is an upper respiratory issue, guaifenesin is definitely one of the top flu relief OTC meds out there.
You will often see it paired with cough suppressants like dextromethorphan. As long as the guaifenesin dosage is high enough, these will act alongside to encourage you not to cough.
If you’re having trouble sleeping, there are PM medications with both guaifenesin and cough suppressants. Sleep is highly important in both flu relief and recovery.
If you’re experiencing a runny nose, you can dry it up with antihistamines.
Be wary, however. Benadryl does make people drowsy and once you take it, you will most likely fall asleep, which is actually a good thing when you have the flu.
Another OTC you can take for a runny nose is pseudoephedrine. But you should not take this if you have any heart risk or heart disease.
It is a stimulant, but it is also a powerful agent in drying up sinus membranes.
Natural OTC Flu Relief
If you’re looking to go the more natural route, there are some options you could try.
Oregano oil has some anti-inflammatory properties. If you want to stay away from Tylenol, you can try this home remedy.
Mix 3-10 drops of P37 Oregano Oil with a tablespoon of water. Swish it around your mouth, swallow, and repeat several times.
NAC is an amino acid you can find at some health food stores which is said to boost immunity. It’s used to treat Tylenol toxicity in hospitals.
NAC won’t provide immediate flu relief. But it might shorten your recovery.
Ginger is a proven immune health and anti-nausea remedy. If you’re experiencing nausea and don’t want to try the other OTC medications, ginger is a great place to start.
If I get the flu, I typically boil a few cubes of ginger root in water to make ginger tea. It’s wonderful and spicy and the hot steam is great for your airways.
Remember, rest and hydration are the first things you should seek for flu relief.
I understand that the flu is miserable and I hope my remedies have helped in your recovery.
Be sure to check out the rest of my OTC knowledge on the rest of the site.