The flu is a common illness, which according to the Centers for Disease Control, will affect up to 20 percent of the population in the United States every year. Common symptoms include fever, headache and muscle aches. Symptoms can last for a week or two.
For most people the flu is uncomfortable, but does not pose serious problems, however, some people do experience serious complications. Very young children and the elderly are at the highest risk of flu complications. People with weakened immune systems are also at risk for complications.
Ear or sinus infections can develop as a complication of the flu. A more serious flu complication which can develop is pneumonia. When a person gets the flu, there immune system is already weakened, that makes them more susceptible to viral and bacteria pneumonia. Symptoms of pneumonia include trouble breathing, cough, fever and extreme fatigue. Chest pain and cough may also occur. Pneumonia can become serious and even be life threatening.
The flu can also make other medical conditions worse. For instance, people who have congestive heart failure may have added stress placed on their heart and develop worsening symptoms. Chronic respiratory conditions, such as asthma and chronic obstructive pulmonary disease, can become worse.
One of the most serious flu complications is respiratory distress syndrome. This can develop in children and adults. The exact reason it develops in some people with the flu is not clear, although children under age 5 and the elderly are more at risk.
Respiratory failure means a person can not get in adequate amounts of oxygen into their lungs. Because a person cannot breathe efficiently, carbon dioxide can buildup in the body. If the carbon dioxide becomes high enough, it can lead to death.
The best way to prevent flu complications is by getting a flu vaccine every year. Although complications don’t develop in most people, there is no clear way to prevent them once a person is infected with the flu. In addition to a vaccine, to help reduce the chances of catching the flu, wash hands frequently, eat healthy and get enough rest to keep the immune system strong.
Since the flu is caused by a virus, antibiotics will not help. Over the counter pain medication may reduce discomfort and headaches. Drinking plenty of fluids can help prevent flu complications, such as dehydration. Rest is also the best way to deal with the flu. It is also important to help reduce spreading the illness and putting other people at risk of flu complications.
Centers for Disease Control and Prevention