Compared to the common cold, the flu often causes a more severe illness. In fact, each year in Canada, an average of 12,000 hospitalizations and 3,500 deaths are caused by the flu.
In this article, we’ll discuss flu symptoms and treatment, and how you can protect your family with the help of your pharmacist.
Do I have the flu?
Influenza is a respiratory infection primarily caused by influenza A and B viruses. In Canada, flu season usually coincides with the late fall and winter months.
As the weather gets colder, we tend to spend more time indoors, in close proximity to other people, increasing the risk of spreading viruses.
Flu symptoms usually appear 1 to 4 days after exposure to the virus, and may include:
- Sudden high fever lasting up to 3 days
Sharp muscle aches and pain
Loss of appetite
Cough and chest pain
Fatigue and weakness
Further symptoms to watch out for in children include:
Most people recover within 5 to 10 days without complications. Fatigue and cough can persist for up to 2 weeks, sometimes more. Complications of influenza include dehydration, sinusitis, ear infection, bronchitis and pneumonia.
You should see a doctor if you have flu symptoms and one or more of the following symptoms:
Shortness of breath, difficulty or pain when breathing
Bluish lips and/or fingers
High fever that persists more than 3 days
Blood in secretions
Difficulty waking up your child
Child does not eat, drink or play
Can flu symptoms be treated at home?
If you think you’ve come down with the flu, the good news is that there are a few things you can do to help ease your symptoms.
Most healthy people can treat the flu at home with rest and over-the-counter medication to help relieve symptoms. However, some people are more at risk of complications, like the elderly, very young children, and people living with chronic diseases or have a weakened immune system because of illness or drug therapy. They should contact their pharmacist or health care team to know if they should receive medical care. In some provinces, pharmacists may prescribe antivirals to prevent the flu or treat flu symptoms for certain people at high risk of flu complications.
In addition to staying home and getting plenty of rest, here are a few OTC options to relieve common flu symptoms. Talk to your pharmacist before taking any medication, as some drugs can interact negatively with others or may not be safe if you are pregnant or breastfeeding. As an expert in medications, your pharmacist can play a vital role in ensuring your home treatment is safe and effective.
If your nose feels stuffed, you can irrigate your nasal passages using a saline solution. This will ease your breathing by shrinking swollen mucous membranes, leaving more room for air to get through.
Your pharmacist can also make recommendations for medication, such as pseudoephedrine and other decongestants for optimal relief. If you have medical conditions, such as high blood pressure or diabetes, be sure to check with your pharmacist to make sure you use a product that will not affect your condition.
You can treat fever by taking non-prescription medications such as ibuprofen or acetaminophen. Check with your pharmacist to choose the right one if you have health issues.
Other ways to manage fever include removing excess clothing and bedding, increasing fluid intake, maintaining an indoor temperature of 20–21°C, and avoiding physical exertion.
Aches and muscle pain
Get plenty of rest. If you want to relieve your pain, you can take non-prescription painkillers such as acetaminophen and ibuprofen. Again, check with your pharmacist to make sure you are choosing the right product for you, as products for muscle aches and pains may contain other medications such as muscle relaxants that may not be suitable for you if you have health problems.
A sore throat can be soothed by regular gargling sessions with a solution of 1/2 teaspoon of salt dissolved in 1 cup (240 ml) of water. Some over-the-counter products may also help, such as cough lozenges, anesthetic sprays or painkillers.
How to avoid spreading the flu?
The flu virus spreads easily from person to person. It can survive up to 2 days on contaminated surfaces. Sneezing, coughing, and talking can release droplets into the air that can infect other people.
Here are some simple steps you can take to help limit the spread of viruses, including the flu virus.
Wash your hands often with warm water and soap (or an alcohol-based hand sanitizer).
Cough and sneeze into your elbows or a tissue instead of directly into your hands.
Limit your contacts to a minimum and wear a mask when you’re with others. Avoid visiting people who are at high risk of complications from the flu while you are sick, such as the elderly, young babies and people with compromised immune systems or chronic diseases.
Regularly clean frequently touched surfaces, such as doorknobs, counters, cellphones, keyboards.
Because the flu virus is highly contagious, Health Canada recommends flu vaccination to protect yourself and the community by limiting the spread of the virus. It’s one of the best ways to prevent the flu or reduce symptoms. It allows your body to develop antibodies that will protect you for the duration of the flu season.
You can book an appointment for your flu shot at your pharmacy, online or over the phone. Each province has its own rules for flu vaccination, so check with your pharmacist to know if you are eligible to receive your shot free of charge.
Your pharmacist can help!
If you have flu-like symptoms and are unsure if you need medical attention, call your pharmacist. They will assess your situation and recommend the best course of action for you.
The pharmacy services presented in this section are offered by pharmacist owners who are affiliated with Uniprix. The pharmacists are solely responsible for the professional activities carried out during the practice of pharmacy. These services are offered in participating pharmacies only. Certain fees and conditions may apply.
* The information contained herein is provided for informational purposes only and is not intended to provide complete information on the subject matter or to replace the advice of a health professional. This information does not constitute medical consultation, diagnosis or opinion and should not be interpreted as such. Please consult your health care provider if you have any questions about your health, medications or treatment.