Influenza or more commonly known as the flu is a contagious illness that affects the respiratory system, including the throat, nose, and lungs. People suffering from the flu can experience symptoms that range from mild to severe, with severe cases experiencing complications that can lead to death.
While most of the time it goes away on its own and those suffering from it recover with no problems, more severe cases can be life-threatening. This can be prevented with an annual flu vaccination.
The flu shares symptoms with the common cold but unlike the latter, the former’s symptoms tend to come on suddenly whereas the common cold develops more slowly.
To better understand this illness, listed below are its symptoms, what they are, and how they affect your body during the flu.
1. Persistent Coughing
Persistent coughing that is dry and hacking is common when you have the flu. With a cough caused by the flu virus, it might also cause tightness in the chest as well as wheezing. You might also cough up some mucus or phlegm. It is through coughing that your body tries to clear your throat of foreign particles like irritants, microbes, mucus, etc.
A cough caused by the flu can last even after all the other symptoms are gone, often lasting a week or two after. A dry cough can irritate the lungs and throat which can further worsen your cough.
The flu virus can also cause complications such as pneumonia and bronchitis which can be seenwith colored phlegm. When this happens, it is vital that you see a doctor immediately as pneumonia can be life-threatening, especially if you’re vulnerable.
2. Runny Nose and Nasal Congestion
The common cold shares this symptom with the flu but unlike with the common cold where it develops slowly, the flu comes on suddenly. Nasal congestion, along with the other symptoms, come on suddenly as well.
Moreover, a runny nose due to the flu virus is usually more intense but lasts shorter than one caused by the common cold. Nasal congestion can cause other flu symptoms such as headaches and sneezing. Moreover, a runny nose can also make it difficult to breathe.
Experiencing a runny nose when you have the flu is the body’s immune system trying to fight off the invading disease. By generating more mucus in the cell lining, your body is trying to prevent more bacteria from invading the body.
Sneezing is another flu symptom that is shared by the common cold. Sneezing is your body’s way of clearing your nose and/or mouth of irritants such as allergens and viruses. It’s described as an involuntary but powerful expulsion of air.
When you have the flu, you sneeze because your nose is trying to clear itself out of the viruses present. By sneezing, it’s trying to clear the air you breathe. As a symptom of the flu, it is often accompanied by nasal congestion or a runny nose.
4. Sore Throat
Another common symptom of the flu is suffering from a sore throat. This entails feeling pain and itchiness in the throat which can make it difficult to talk and swallow. Because of the difficulty swallowing, it can make eating uncomfortable which can prevent quick recovery from the flu.
There are certain home remedies that can alleviate the pain from a sore throat such as gargling a solution of warm water and salt. However, for more severe cases, medication might be prescribed by your doctor to treat the underlying reason for the sore throat such as in the case of the flu.
5. High Fever
One of the major symptoms of the flu and the symptom that one needs to look out for is having a high fever. Pyrexia or more commonly known as a fever happens when your temperature increases to a level that’s higher than the body’s normal temperature.
To compare, the normal body temperature of humans is around 37°C or 98.6°F. While it can vary from person to person and can fluctuate during the day, being higher during the day and lower at night, it still stays more or less within that range.
It is thought that one of the reasons why the body experiences fevers is because it’s meant to kill off bacteria and viruses that are sensitive to temperature change. Therefore, a fever is your body’s way of killing off the harmful pathogens invading your body.
When suffering from the flu, one’s body temperature can run somewhere from 38°C or 100.4°F to as high as 40°C or 104°F. Younger children often have higher temperatures compared to adults. If your high fever persists, then it is recommended to check with a doctor as this can be dangerous and life-threatening, especially in children and the elderly.
Experiencing chills is when you feel cold even when no temperature change occurs. These often happen when you experience a fever which can cause shaking and shivering. They often accompany a high fever.
Chills accompany a high fever because as the brain increases the temperature of your body, it works to meet that temperature which means you are colder than the new temperature. To heat itself up, your body tries to warm itself by contracting and relaxing the muscles which cause shivering or chills.
7. Cold Sweats
Perspiring or sweating is a natural reaction of the body that helps regulate the body’s temperature after exerting yourself physically. It does so by allowing your body to lose heat through evaporation, allowing yourself to cool down and regulate your temperature. Cold sweats, on the other hand, is when you perspire not because of heat or physical exertion.
It is the body’s response to sudden stress, whether physical or psychological. They can also be an indication that the fever has broken and the body’s temperature is finally going down.
While headaches are not exclusively a flu symptom, it can be an indication of the condition. These can be caused by several factors such as a runny or clogged nose and fevers. This is because the flu virus can cause swelling and inflammation to build up in your sinuses and nose which can turn into headaches.
Fighting off a virus such as the flu can be extremely taxing on the body which is why feeling fatigued is another symptom of having the flu. Fatigue is described as being more than being simply sleepy or tired. It’s a feeling of extreme tiredness and an overall lack of energy.
Although present in other conditions, experiencing fatigue can be an early indication that you have the flu. Similar to the dry cough, your feelings of fatigue can last even after you have recovered from the other flu symptoms.
10. Muscle Aches
The flu, as mentioned, causes inflammation in the body because as the virus attacks your body, your immune system sends its own antibodies to fight it off. This causes the inflammation experienced throughout your body.
The dehydration experienced from high fever can also contribute to the muscle aches you experience during the flu. Another possible contributing factor is the lack of restful sleep that happens when your body is fighting off an infection.
Possible Complications from the Flu
Often enough, flu symptoms go away on their own with enough rest and fluids, usually after a duration of three to five days. However, in the event that it doesn’t and the symptoms last more than a week without seeing improvement, then it might be best to consult with your doctor.
Your doctor can prescribe you medication that can help your body fight off the infection. There is also over-the-counter medication that can help alleviate the symptoms of the flu.
While the symptoms of the flu are easy enough to manage, if they are left untreated, they can cause complications such as:
• Abdominal pain
• Ear infections
• Chest pain
These complications, combined with the flu, can also end up being life-threatening, especially for those who are more vulnerable such as children, the elderly, and those with weakened immune systems.
Because influenza shares many common symptoms with the common cold, it can be difficult to assess whether what you have is simply the common cold or the flu. When you start showing symptoms, your doctor can conduct a physical exam to look for the signs of influenza and order a laboratory test to confirm the presence of the virus.
If you suspect you have the flu, be careful as it’s highly contagious and it is so at least a day before the symptoms start showing up until around five days after they do.
Preventing the Flu
As mentioned, the best way to prevent the flu is by having annual flu vaccinations. This is because each shot allows you to be protected from at least three to four strains of influenza viruses of that year’s flu season.
You can also prevent the spread of the flu by washing your hands regularly, covering your nose and mouth when sneezing, avoiding crowds during flu season, and staying home at least 24 hours to rest after developing a fever.
There is no definite cure yet for the influenza virus, with bed rest and fluids being the usual treatment for it. While those who suffer from the flu can usually recover with enough rest and fluids, more severe cases can lead to complications that can become life-threatening without medical intervention.
It may be easy to confuse the flu with the common cold, especially since they share many of the same symptoms. However, a major indication that it’s the flu is that the symptoms’ onset is immediate, rather than slowly.
The combination of getting your annual flu shots and taking other precautions can help prevent the spread of this illness. After all, prevention is always better than cure.