If you’ve been too slow in getting your flu shot for the season, or don’t feel comfortable bringing out the big guns of antiviral medicines, there are simple ways you can help protect yourself from the flu virus.
Read our top ten ways you can reduce the length and severity of the flu, if you catch it, and other simple remedies to make you more comfortable while you get through this too-common winter bug.
When it comes to cure-alls, Echinacea is a natural wonder drug! Numerous studies have shown that Echinacea contains active substances that boost the immune system, relieve pain, reduce inflammation, and have hormonal, antiviral, and antioxidant effects. Particularly effective in fighting flu and cold viruses, Echinacea taken at the first sign of a cold or flu bug will reduce the length and severity of the illnesses and reduce the number of symptoms.
Liquid elderberry extract
Sold at chemists as Sambucol, liquid elderberry extract fights flu directly. Studies has shown that taking it immediately after the first symptoms of the flu appear will significantly reduce the length and severity of the flu. It seems that the compounds in the extract boost the immune system and stop the flu virus from sticking to cells so it is removed from your body faster.
Drinking plenty when you have the flu is key to keeping your discomfort to a minimum, without continuously replacing the fluids you are losing through fever and mucous build-up, you can quickly become dehydrated which can delay your recovery as well as make you feel so much worse than you should. Cool drinks can be soothing when you have a fever and hot drinks can be soothing when you have a sore or tickly throat. Whatever you choose, just drink, drink, drink!
Blow your nose
It’s true, when it comes to mucous, it’s better out then in. Blowing your nose regularly when you’re snotty is so much better than sniffing the mucous back and swallowing it. Do be careful, though, to blow gently as blowing your nose hard when you have the flu or a cold can cause acute ear pain.
Equalise your ears
One of the common symptoms of the flu is having blocked and sore ears as the fluid builds up in the middle ear. Equalising your ears regularly – pinching your nose with your fingers and gently blowing air into your nose for the count of 10 then releasing your nose, and then repeating this five times while you have flu or cold symptoms will keep the fluid moving and significantly reduce the chance of a secondary ear or sinus infection. Equalising will also provide temporary relief from the uncomfortable stuffed-up feeling many cold and flu sufferers experience.
Gargling is a great way to tackle throat ailments, everything from a ticklish throat to a it’s-too-painful-to-swallow throat. Whether you choose a gargle from the chemist or simply use warm water and salt, gargling will soothe and disinfect your throat membranes and moisten a dry sore throat.
Steam inhalations help thin the mucous that’s making you stuffy and clogging your chest. Several times a day, pour boiling water into a bowl – you can add a couple of drops of tea tree or eucalyptus oil into the water too. Place a towel over your head and then lower yourself so that your face is over the boiling water and the towel is creating a tent around you. Breathe the steam in deeply and slowly until the water begins to cool. As steam is generally good for getting mucous moving, hot showers also have a health benefit.
There is something so automatically comforting about rubbing something menthol-y on your chest and back when you’re sick that it has to be good, right? Happily, chest rubs do have a medicinal use beyond making you feel nurtured. Eucalyptus, camphor and menthol rubs all work to soothe chest congestion and the vapours that are released from contact with your warm skin will help clear your congested head.
Elevate your head when sleeping
Aside from the general aches and pains that come with the flu, chest and head congestion can make it really difficult to get the rest you need when fighting a bug. The best way to get and stay comfortable in bed when you have the flu is by elevating your head with an extra pillow or two. By keeping your head and chest higher than the rest of your body, you’ll avoid them ‘filling up’ when you lie flat. Coughs too can be improved at night by simply sleeping with your head in an elevated position.
If you’re having trouble controlling your fever, use cool (not cold) compresses on the pulse points around your body – the wrists, neck and throat – to cool your blood as it passes close to the surface of your skin. You can also find relief from blocked sinuses by laying cool compresses across the painful areas of your face.
This article was written by Ella Walsh for Kidspot, New Zealand’s best family health resource.