Written on December 21, 2022 by Lori Mulligan, MPH. To give you technically accurate, evidence-based information, content published on the Everlywell blog is reviewed by credentialed professionals with expertise in medical and bioscience fields.
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The flu season in the United States usually occurs in the fall and winter. During the 2021-2022 influenza season, the CDC estimates that influenza was associated with 9 million illnesses, 4 million medical visits, 10,000 hospitalizations, and 5,000 deaths . The overall health impact (e.g., infections, hospitalizations, and deaths) of flu varies from season to season.
Most people can treat flu successfully at home, but if you are short of breath, having difficulty breathing, experiencing chest pain, or unable to eat or drink, you should seek medical care immediately.
At-risk groups for the flu
According to the World Health Organization, all age groups can be affected, but some groups are more at risk than others :
- Pregnant women
- Children under 59 months
- The elderly
- Individuals with chronic medical conditions
- Individuals with immunosuppressive conditions (such as HIV/AIDS, recipients of chemotherapy or steroids, or malignancy)
- Healthcare workers with increased exposure to contagious patients
What is the best treatment for flu at home
The CDC offers the following guidance :
- Avoid close contact with people who are sick. When you are sick, keep your distance from others to protect them from getting sick too. Stay home when you are sick. If possible, stay home from work, school, and errands when you are sick. This will help prevent spreading your illness to others.
- Cover your mouth and nose with a tissue when coughing or sneezing. It may prevent those around you from getting sick. Flu viruses spread mainly by droplets made when people with flu cough, sneeze, or talk.
- Clean your hands. Washing your hands often will help protect you from germs. If soap and water are not available, use an alcohol-based hand rub.
- Avoid touching your eyes, nose, or mouth. Germs can be spread when a person touches something that is contaminated with germs and then touches their eyes, nose, or mouth.
- Practice other good health habits.
- Clean and disinfect frequently touched surfaces at home
- Get plenty of sleep
- Manage your stress
- Drink plenty of fluids
- Eat nutritious food
The Mayo Clinic echoes CDC guidance and offers this additional tip for self-care from the flu :
- Take acetaminophen (Tylenol, others) or ibuprofen (Advil, Motrin IB, others) to reduce fever and muscle aches. Don't give products containing aspirin to children or teens recovering from chickenpox or flu-like symptoms. This is because aspirin has been linked to Reye's syndrome, a rare but potentially life-threatening condition, in such children.
An interview with Dr. Tuhin Roy, clinical assistant professor of family medicine at Tufts University School of Medicine, for TuftsNow, an online resource that educates people about various diseases and conditions and how to prevent and treat them, had this additional information to share :
- Try kitchen medicine. Studies have shown that honey is effective when it comes to improving respiratory symptoms quickly, but don’t give honey to children under one year old. Honey is better compared to usual care for the improvement of symptoms of upper respiratory tract infections. It provides a widely available and cheap alternative to antibiotics. Honey has the added benefit that it could help efforts to slow the spread of antimicrobial resistance, but further high-quality, placebo-controlled trials are needed.
Use steam for stuffiness. For heavy congestion, steam showers or holding your head over a hot pot of water can open nasal passages. Saline sprays, saline irrigation, and other OTC nasal decongestants also can reduce symptoms.
Get a flu shot. The best way to prevent the need for any of this is to get a flu shot, Roy says, and there are very few reasons not to get one. They’re effective and safe, but because the flu virus changes, people should get an influenza vaccination every year. He recommends them for children starting at six months old.
The flu shot helps prevent severe symptoms, like ending up in the hospital, which can happen more often in kids and immunocompromised people. So, it might be true that you'll still get the flu, but it'll be less intense than what it would be without the vaccine.
Watch for symptoms in children. Children often stop eating or drinking much sooner than adults when they feel ill. Acetaminophen or ibuprofen can help reduce fevers, which in turn can help make kids feel like drinking fluids again.
Kids often will not want milk or milk-type products, like formula, so just use water or a 50/50 mix of apple juice and water, which contains some electrolytes and nutrients .
If you're interested in flu treatment at home, consider Everlywell's online flu treatment option. You can book a same-day video appointment with a clinician who can give you a diagnosis and prescribe medication, where applicable (with prescriptions sent directly to your pharmacy).
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- 2021-2022 Estimated Influenza Burden. CDC. URL. Accessed on December 18, 2022.
- Ask the expert: Influenza Q&A. WHO. URL. Accessed on December 18, 2022.
- Healthy Habits to Help Prevent Flu. CDC. URL. Accessed on December 18, 2022.
- Self-care for the flu. Mayo Clinic. URL. Accessed on December 18, 2022.
- Abuelgasim H, Albury C, Lee J. Effectiveness of honey for symptomatic relief in upper respiratory tract infections: a systematic review and meta-analysis. BMJ Evidence-Based Medicine 2021;26:57-64. URL
- Tips for Treating Flu at Home. Tufts University Medical School. URL. Accessed on December 18, 2022.