7 Habits That Could Be Causing Your Flu Symptoms to Linger Even Longer
It can feel like you might never recover from a case of the flu. The coughing, sneezing, fever, and body aches can knock you on your butt for days, keeping you from classes and work, and just generally disrupting your life. The flu is a major inconvenience, but it also proves year after year to be a potentially deadly virus. In other words, this isn’t something you want to mess with for very long. POPSUGAR spoke with flu experts to find out exactly how you can get back on your feet – and they agreed that you should start by kicking these seven habits.
Trying to Push Through It
If you want to heal quickly, you have to allow yourself to rest. “Just like weight lifters need a day off to let their muscles recover and grow, your body when it is sick needs time to recover,” Aaron Milstone, MD, associate hospital epidemiologist and professor of pediatrics at the Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine, told POPSUGAR. “It is possible that not giving yourself rest may make it take a little bit longer for you to feel better again.”
Staying home from work or school when you’re sick is also crucial in preventing the spread of the virus, explained Rebecca Greenblatt, PhD, an assistant professor of microbiology and immunology at SUNY Upstate Medical University in Syracuse, NY. “It’s very important to break the chain of infection whenever you have the opportunity.”
Not Getting the Flu Vaccine
While the flu vaccine can be extremely effective at preventing the flu, it can also help minimize the symptoms if you do catch the virus. “There are more and more studies that show that it does lessen the severity of the disease, meaning if you do get flu, you’re likely to get a milder case,” Dr. Milstone said. While you’ll still feel sick, “maybe it won’t last many days or you won’t feel like you can’t get out of bed.”
Going Hard at the Gym
This is one time when it’s not a good idea to hit up a bootcamp class. “When you’re sick, your body needs a significant amount of energy to fight the infection,” Dr. Greenblatt told POPSUGAR. “Running the inflammatory response that you need to fight a major virus infection, like influenza, requires a lot of calories.” She went on to explain that you can still exercise if it helps you feel healthy. “Just take a walk instead of going for a run,” she said. “Don’t make your body fight for those resources it needs to fight the virus.”
Not Drinking Enough Water
Staying hydrated helps thin mucus and break up congestion, so eventually, that icky stuff can make its way out of your body. “If you have a respiratory infection, like influenza, the goal is to try and get that virus out of you, which your body does by using something called the mucociliary escalator in your throat and your lungs,” Paul A. Offit, MD, director of the Vaccine Education Center at Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia and professor of pediatrics and vaccinology at the Perelman School of Medicine at the University of Pennsylvania, told POPSUGAR. “That works best to get these viruses out of the cells if the fluid is easily moved.”
Dr. Greenblatt further explained that becoming dehydrated can have significant consequences. “Dehydration begins by interfering with the normal flushing action that clears out your ears, nose, and throat,” she said. “Thick dry mucus is more likely to form blockages that predispose you to ear infection, sinus infection, and sore throat. More severe dehydration will prevent you from efficiently clearing out the dead germs and white blood cells that accumulate during an infection, so you will feel more aches and pains and be slower to recover.”
Slacking on Sleep
Sleep deprivation can worsen the flu since it weakens your immune system. In fact, people typically need more sleep to help fight the virus. “Get as much sleep as your body needs,” Dr. Milstone said. Unless you’re super lethargic (which could indicate that the infection is getting worse), “there’s no such thing as too much sleep when you’re sick,” he explained.
Dr. Greenblatt suggests running a humidifier to help keep your airways clear and ease your symptoms. “Most illnesses that produce a lot of coughing can interfere with your sleep,” she said. “To help keep those secretions under control, it really helps to stay hydrated.”
Vaping or Smoking
“Anything that disrupts the ability of the lung to clear itself of particulars or debris, like smoking, makes it difficult to recover from a viral infection,” Dr. Offit told POPSUGAR. Plus, inhaling anything that could further irritate your lungs may make flu symptoms worse. It’s not worth it.
Not Seeing Your Doctor
Although it’s usually not necessary to see a doctor for the flu, it’s extremely beneficial if you do. “If you really don’t feel good and you’re concerned, you should go to your doctor and get checked, because if you have the flu, they can give you a prescription that might make you feel better,” Dr. Milstone said.
Dr. Greenblatt agreed, noting that if you get these antiviral medications in the first 48 hours of illness, they’ll shorten the duration and lessen the symptoms. There’s another benefit, too: if you’re living in close quarters with roommates or family, “these medicines also reduce the replication of the virus, so you’re less likely to spread it,” she explained.
Consider the alternative: self-medicating with over-the-counter fever reducers and cold treatments, which the experts agreed do nothing to help you recover faster. “Acetaminophen and ibuprofen will reduce your fever and make you feel better, but they’re not going to help your body get rid of the virus any faster – and it’s the same with other cough and cold remedies,” Dr. Milstone said. “They might help your symptoms, but they’re not necessarily protecting your body from the virus.”