Getting the flu is no fun. But as summer winds down, it's more and more likely. If you end up stuck with this bug, it's important to watch out for things that make the flu worse, so you can be back to your best self as soon as possible. Some of these things, however, might not seem so obvious.
Of course, the first step should always be preventing the flu by getting vaccinated and understanding the signs of the flu if you're at risk. Flu season has a tendency to come on strong, and it's crucial to know the difference between a bad cold and a more serious illness.
"Sometimes it can be easy to confuse symptoms of the flu for symptoms of the common cold," Dr. Emi Chiusano, MD, Area Medical Director at Med Express, tells Bustle. "However, look out for some big differences. Symptoms of the flu will come on quickly — more quickly than those of a cold [... and] keep an eye out for fever, severe body aches, exhaustion, cough and sore throat." If you notice these symptoms, getting to the doctor as soon as possible is crucial.
Once you've been diagnosed, it's time to stay home and rest. "It’s very important when you have the flu to drink plenty of liquids to stay hydrated and get plenty of sleep so that your body has time to fight the infection," Dr. Allan Greissman, of Pediatric Critical Care of South Florida, tells Bustle. "[...] Not giving yourself a chance to get better will only hurt your own immune system’s ability to fight the flu." Your body will thank you if you don't do anything to exacerbate it, and you'll be healthy much sooner.
Here are seven things you didn't realize prolong the flu or make it worse, according to experts.
If you have the flu, it may feel frustrating to put your life on hold. Unfortunately, that's kind of how it has to be. And even certain things that may feel like they'd help the flu, like exercising, won't.
"Many people believe that working out when sick can help sweat out the toxins in the body," Dr. Chiusano says. "While it may be beneficial to do an easy workout with a cold [...] I advise my patients to never exercise if they have the flu." This is because fevers, a common symptom of the flu, can cause the body to dehydrate more quickly. And dehydration can delay recovery.
2. Avoiding The Doctor
You may think staying in bed and drinking water is enough to ensure a quick turnaround, but there's more you can do to make sure your flu isn't prolonged. One of the most important things is going to the doctor.
"When you're sick with the flu, never avoid the doctor's office," Dr. Chiusano says. "A healthcare professional can test you for the flu and may prescribe an antiviral medication that can help speed up recovery. However, these antiviral medications are not effective unless taken within 24 hours of the start of symptoms. So waiting to visit a healthcare professional can potentially delay recovery." Not taking medicine will make you sicker longer, so even if it seems annoying, getting to the doctor is crucial.
3. Ignoring What Your Body Is Telling You
When you're sick, regardless of what you're sick with, it's important to listen to your body. With the flu this is especially important. If you are ignoring the cues you're given, you may actually prolong your illness.
"It’s important to listen to your body and not to fight what it’s telling you that you need, whether that’s sleep, fluids, a warm bowl of chicken noodle soup, or a few days off from the gym," Dr. Norman Moore, Director of Scientific Affairs, Infectious Disease at Abbott, tells Bustle. "Obtaining the right amount of sleep can affect your immune system, and staying hydrated and keeping yourself as comfortable as possible are all important tactics to combatting the flu." So whatever it is your illness needs, give into it for a few days.
4. Trying To "Power-Through" It
No matter how strong you are, getting rid of the flu still needs to be your top priority for a few days. Remember, getting back to your real life will come more quickly if you give into taking care of your health for a few days.
"The stress of deadlines, last-minute projects and long meetings can wear down even a healthy person — so when you have the flu, it's even more important to stay home from work," Dr. Chiusano says. "When you're sick with the flu, your body needs some serious rest and relaxation to recover. If you continue to 'power through' your workdays, you're putting yourself at risk for longer-lasting — and potentially even more severe — flu symptoms." Plus, if you go to work, you're likely to infect other people.
5. Smoking, Or Being Around Smokers
Whatever kind of smoking you and your friends do, try to keep it at bay as much as possible while you're sick. You may not realize it, but you could be making your illness worse.
"The last thing you should do when you have the flu is smoke cigarettes or surround yourself in a room full of smokers," Dr. Nesochi Okeke-Igbokwe, physician and health and wellness expert, tells Bustle. "The noxious chemicals in cigarettes will act as a potent irritant that only worsens your respiratory symptoms." You don't want that cough and sore throat to last any longer than they must, so try your best to avoid smoking.
6. Ignoring How Much Water You're Drinking
You probably know that drinking water is important when you have the flu, but being sick and getting foggy about hydration, or even just wanting to sleep it off, can get in the way of your recovery.
"Dehydration will exacerbate your flu symptoms and make you feel so much worse," Dr. Okeke-Igbokwe says. "It's crucial to maintain good hydration status by taking in enough fluids." So even if you aren't a big water-drinker, things like soup and gatorade can be really crucial.
7. Not Getting The Flu Vaccine
You may feel frustrated by the fact that you can still get the flu after having been vaccinated, but the flu shot is still really important even if you get sick.
"One of the benefits of getting the flu vaccine is that it can help to lower both the severity and duration of illness if you still end up getting sick with the influenza virus," Dr. Okeke-Igbokwe says. So find a local place where you can get the flu shot; it's always in your best interest.
Regardless of what you decide to do when you're sick, the Center For Disease Control (CDC) recommends staying home for at least 24 hours after your fever has broken. While making sure you recover from the flu quickly is important for your own health, it's also an important way to protect others, as well. So stay hydrated, get your rest, and try not to power through the worst parts. Your body, and loved ones, will thank you.