The flu is a contagious illness that ranges from mild to severe, with fatal cases reported each year. In most cases, symptoms come on suddenly. Because influenza and the common cold have similar symptoms, it can be challenging to self-diagnose the flu. But detecting signs early on can help prevent the spreading of the virus and lower the duration of your illness. Additionally, antiviral medications that can lessen the severity of the flu. They can also shorten recovery periods by one to two days if taken within 48 hours of the onset of your symptoms.
Let’s take a closer look at some early symptoms of the flu. We’ll explore the first signs of the flu and the best way to treat the virus to ensure a speedy recovery.
What is Influenza?
Influenza is a highly contagious respiratory illness that infects the nose, throat, and lungs. A virus causes the flu. The disease comes on suddenly and hits patients at full force. When you come in contact with tiny airborne droplets spread when an infected person coughs, sneezes, or talks, you can easily catch the flu. In rare cases, the illness can be spread from touching a surface or object that’s been infected with the virus, then touching your face, nose, mouth, or eyes.
According to the CDC, nearly 8% of the U.S. population will get diagnosed with the flu each year. Typically, the flu is contagious for the first three to four days after symptoms begin. In some cases, the virus can be spread one day before symptoms show and up to five to seven days after. High-risk groups include:
- Children five-years-old and younger
- Pregnant women
- Adults ages 65 and older
- Individuals with chronic illnesses
- Patients with compromised immune systems
6 Early Symptoms of the Flu
Early signs of the flu vary based on the patient and the severity of the condition. If you have any or all of the following symptoms, contacting your healthcare provider can help prevent the spreading of the flu and lessen the duration of your illness:
Feeling exhausted might not usually be cause for alarm. Still, it’s not a sign you want to ignore during the flu season. When it comes to the flu, severe fatigue is a tell-tale sign that you’ve contracted the illness. Of course, there’s a difference between being tired and battling fatigue. Fatigue is a feeling of exhaustion that interferes with your regular activity. If you notice that you’re suddenly so exhausted that you can’t perform your everyday activities, it might be time to visit the doctor to check you for the flu.
The early symptom of fatigue is your body’s way of telling you to slow down. You need to rest. Take some time off from work or school to help your body fight the virus. When it comes to the flu, sleep is truly the best medicine. Not only will you be able to battle the illness more effectively, but you’ll strengthen your immune system for a faster recovery.
Chills and Body Aches
Body aches anywhere is an early sign of the flu, especially if you’ve got aches in your head, back, and legs. They could be so painful that it feels like you’ve pulled a bunch of muscles at the gym. When body aches are combined with chills, you’re more than likely looking at the flu as the cause of your symptoms. Chills can begin before a fever even sets in.
If you’re experiencing chills and body aches as first signs of the flu, treat the symptoms to make yourself more comfortable. Wrap yourself in a blanket to stay warm. Use over-the-counter pain medications, such as Tylenol and Motrin, to reduce discomfort and treat pain and fever.
While a phlegmy cough is usually more consistent with an upper respiratory infection, a persistent cough that feels like you always have a tickle in the back of the throat is an early sign of the flu. Watch out for a constant itch in the back of your throat, wheezing, and chest tightness. If your cough is producing mucus that is yellow or green, you may have bronchitis or pneumonia as a complication of the flu.
The best way to treat the symptoms of a cough is to stay hydrated. Stick to food and drinks that help soothe your throat, like tea with honey. Your healthcare provider may also advise you to pick up an over-the-counter cough medication to alleviate symptoms.
Sure, a sore throat is commonly a sign of strep throat, but it can also be an early sign of the flu. If your throat feels scratchy or irritated, keep an eye on your symptoms. If it becomes difficult to drink or swallow food, or if your sore throat gets worse as the virus progresses, contact your healthcare provider.
The best way to ease a sore throat is to soothe irritation. Eat soft foods. Drink warm tea with honey. Warm-up with some hearty chicken noodle soup. If symptoms persist, you can try throat lozenges or gargle with salt and warm water.
If you have a temperature of 100°F or higher, it’s a sign that your body is fighting an illness. During the first few days with the flu, you might notice your fever comes and goes while the virus runs its course.
Use over-the-counter fever reducers, such as acetaminophen or ibuprofen, to keep your fever down. Since a high temperature can lead to dehydration, make sure you stay hydrated as well.
While gastrointestinal problems aren’t always prevalent with the flu, some strains can cause diarrhea, nausea, vomiting, and stomach pain. Dehydration is a high risk for patients with gastrointestinal problems.
If you’re experiencing diarrhea, nausea, and vomiting, make sure to stay hydrated. In addition to water, sports drinks, juice, caffeine-free soda and tea, and warm broth can help keep you nourished so your body can fight the virus.
Visit University Urgent Care Fort Worth for Flu Treatment
If you experience any of these first signs of the flu, visit a healthcare provider. Prescription antiviral medications can ease symptoms of the flu and shorten the lifespan of your illness. But they need to be taken within 48 hours of the onset of symptoms. If you’ve been diagnosed with the flu, several at-home treatment options will help promote healing and get you back on your feet as fast as possible. Be sure to take care of yourself in the following way:
- Hydrate. You should be drinking fluids around the clock to prevent dehydration.
- Use a humidifier to ease nasal congestion.
- Take over-the-counter acetaminophen or ibuprofen medications for pain and fever.
Even if your condition is diagnosed early on, it can take up to three weeks to fully recover from the flu. Take your time. Doing too much too soon can lead to secondary illnesses, such as ear infections, sinus infections, bronchitis, and pneumonia. If your symptoms continue to worsen three to four days after the onset, seek medical care immediately.
Other signs that you need to be seen by a healthcare professional include:
- Difficulty breathing
- Chest pain
- Severe muscle pain
- Signs of dehydration
- Reduced urine output
- Dry mouth
- No tears when crying
- Temperature exceeding 104°F, any fever in children 12 weeks or younger
- Worsening chronic illnesses
- Severe weakness or unsteadiness
- Inability to arouse
- Pressure in the chest or abdomen
- Persistent dizziness or confusion
The best way to treat the flu is to take proactive measures to prevent contracting the illness altogether. Flu prevention methods include:
- Getting your annual flu shot.
- Avoid touching your face, nose, mouth, and eyes.
- Avoid people you know are ill.
- Follow safe hand washing practices.
If you’re experiencing the first signs of the flu, University Urgent Care is here to help. Whether you need treatment or want to get your annual flu shot, our team of board-certified nurse practitioners is available seven days a week to provide you the medical care you need. University Urgent Care Fort Worth treats patients of all ages throughout the community. Quickly schedule an appointment online, walk-in to our facility from 10 AM- 8 PM, or give us a call at (817) 439-9539 to schedule an appointment.