Influenza (Flu): Care Instructions

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Your Care Instructions

Influenza (flu) is an infection in the lungs and breathing passages. It is caused by the influenza virus. There are different strains, or types, of the flu virus from year to year. Unlike the common cold, the flu comes on suddenly and the symptoms, such as a cough, congestion, fever, chills, fatigue, aches, and pains, are more severe. These symptoms may last up to 10 days. Although the flu can make you feel very sick, it usually doesn't cause serious health problems.

Home treatment is usually all you need for flu symptoms. But your doctor may prescribe antiviral medicine to prevent other health problems, such as pneumonia, from developing. Older people and those who have a long-term health condition, such as lung disease, are most at risk for having pneumonia or other health problems.

Follow-up care is a key part of your treatment and safety. Be sure to make and go to all appointments, and call your doctor or nurse call line if you are having problems. It's also a good idea to know your test results and keep a list of the medicines you take.

How can you care for yourself at home?

  • Get plenty of rest.
  • Drink plenty of fluids, enough so that your urine is light yellow or clear like water. If you have kidney, heart, or liver disease and have to limit fluids, talk with your doctor before you increase the amount of fluids you drink.
  • Take an over-the-counter pain medicine if needed, such as acetaminophen (Tylenol), ibuprofen (Advil, Motrin), or naproxen (Aleve), to relieve fever, headache, and muscle aches. Read and follow all instructions on the label. No one younger than 20 should take aspirin. It has been linked to Reye syndrome, a serious illness.
  • Do not smoke. Smoking can make the flu worse. If you need help quitting, talk to your doctor about stop-smoking programs and medicines. These can increase your chances of quitting for good.
  • Breathe moist air from a hot shower or from a sink filled with hot water to help clear a stuffy nose.
  • Before you use cough and cold medicines, check the label. These medicines may not be safe for children younger than age 6, or for people with certain health problems.
  • If the skin around your nose and lips becomes sore, put some petroleum jelly on the area.
  • To ease coughing:
    • Drink fluids to soothe a scratchy throat.
    • Suck on cough drops or plain hard candy.
    • Take an over-the-counter cough medicine that contains dextromethorphan to help you get some sleep. Read and follow all instructions on the label.
    • Raise your head at night with an extra pillow. This may help you rest if coughing keeps you awake.
  • Take any prescribed medicine exactly as directed. Call your doctor or nurse call line if you think you are having a problem with your medicine.

To avoid spreading the flu

  • Wash your hands regularly, and keep your hands away from your face.
  • Stay home from school, work, and other public places until you are feeling better and your fever has been gone for at least 24 hours. The fever needs to have gone away on its own without the help of medicine.
  • Ask people living with you to talk to their doctors about preventing the flu. They may get antiviral medicine to keep from getting the flu from you.
  • To prevent the flu in the future, get a flu vaccine every fall. Encourage people living with you to get the vaccine.
  • Cover your mouth when you cough or sneeze.

When should you call for help?

Call 911 anytime you think you may need emergency care. For example, call if:

  • You have severe trouble breathing.

Call your doctor or nurse call line now or seek immediate medical care if:

  • You have new or worse trouble breathing.
  • You seem to be getting much sicker.
  • You feel very sleepy or confused.
  • You have a new or higher fever.
  • You get a new rash.

Watch closely for changes in your health, and be sure to contact your doctor or nurse call line if:

  • You begin to get better and then get worse.
  • You are not getting better after 1 week.

Where can you learn more?

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Current as of: December 6, 2017