It’s easy to think of the flu – or influenza – and imagine lying in bed on a Wednesday, simply waiting for your symptoms to pass over. For the majority of the population, this is exactly what the flu consists of. For some unlucky folks (such as young children or the elderly), however, the flu can be a lot more than a day or three in bed or on the couch watching TV. For these people, the flu can actually be fatal in some circumstances and will often require medical attention and/or supervision.
Who Should Worry About Flu Complications?
Those over the age of 65 are particularly susceptible to such complications. Toddlers and infants should also visit a doctor at the very least when flu symptoms begin to appear. Those with respiratory diseases (asthma, bronchitis, etc.) are also at higher risk of flu-related complications. Diabetes, as well as diseases of the heart and kidneys, can also increase one’s risk of severe symptoms upon catching the flu virus. Other diseases which may lower the body’s immune system response also increase the risk of complications, and it generally takes longer for these patients to fight off the flu as well, compounding the problem. Aboriginals and those of Torres Strait Islander descent have been shown to be more vulnerable to the flu virus. The same can be said of pregnant women, who aren’t only at risk from the flu themselves, but also have their babies put at risk. For pregnant women, having to fight off two flu infections at once results in an “overload” for their immune systems, and so fighting off the virus can take up to three times as long as usual. It is important for these people to seek medical attention if they suspect they have the flu. While medical attention is all well and good, it can be a hassle and is not always successful. For this reason, it is recommended to save medical attention as a last resort. The best option is to receive a flu vaccine every year and prevent the issue in the first place. Vaccines are very effective and are becoming commonplace for good reason.
Common Flu Complications
The flu can cause a wide variety of complications, more than one may expect, such as:
- Reye’s Syndrome – A possibly fatal condition, Reye’s Syndrome leads to swelling of the brain and can lead to fat accumulation in the liver.
- Asthma – Those who already have asthma may notice the worsening of asthma symptoms as the flu increases their severity.
- Miscarriage – Severe flu can lead to a miscarriage.
- Bronchitis – Children with the flu may experience certain forms of bronchitis in the form of a severe cough.
- Severe Bacterial Infections – These can occur in the lungs, sinuses or ears in severe flu cases in children. They can also obstruct breathing and can become painful.
- Kidney Failure – Often due to dehydration, this is usually reversible.
- Pneumonia – In severe cases, pneumonia can cause skin discoloration and confusion, though symptoms are generally limited to a dry cough and constant shortness of breath. Pneumonia is caused by damaged lung tissue and can be quite severe.
- Inflammation – The flu may cause severe inflammation of the brain, muscles and heart. This inflammation can cause muscle pain as well as shortness of breath.
- Febrile convulsions – Sometimes experienced by young children with the flu, febrile convulsions are seizures which tend to stop occurring once the flu passes.
For standard flu cases – those which come without the above symptoms – standard flu treatments work just fine. Fluids, painkillers (please seek medical advice) and rest are generally all you need to suppress your flu symptoms until a time when they start disappearing. If; however, you’re experiencing more than just standard flu symptoms, it may be time to seek medical attention such as visiting your GP. Symptoms such as a high fever (over 39 degrees Celsius), seizures, fainting, rapid breathing, shortness of breath, confusion, chest pain, and/or extreme drowsiness or confusion are signs that something serious may be happening and medical attention is recommended.
It goes without saying that the best preventative measure is getting your flu vaccination at the beginning of (or right before) the flu season. If, however, this is not possible, there are other measures one can take to prevent themselves from coming down with the flu. Thoroughly washing your hands on a consistent basis is important (if this isn’t always possible, use hand sanitiser as an alternative). Avoiding those who you know have the flu will also lower your risk of contracting the virus. If this isn’t possible, avoiding physical contact is still better than nothing. Moderating, or better yet abstaining, from alcohol and cigarettes will also decrease the risk of developing the flu after coming in contact with the virus. Maintaining a healthy lifestyle will also help lower your risk of getting the flu as well as many other illnesses. Eating healthily, undertaking regular exercise and going outdoors on a regular basis will increase both the longevity and quality of your life while helping keep you safe from influenza.