Symptoms, Complications, and Prevention of the Flu
It’s never too late to get a flu shot. And seniors are no exception. The height of the flu season generally continues through March each year. And this year the flu season has a record number of reported cases throughout the U.S. This article explains some of the symptoms, complications, and prevention of the flu, that common contagious respiratory illness caused by the influenza virus that attacks the upper and lower respiratory tract. It’s a miserable experience for anyone, yet poses more serious health risks among the elderly as their immune systems are not as strong to fight against infection.
Symptoms of the Flu
Similar to the symptoms of the common cold, the flu is worse especially for those over the age of 65. Instead of just slowing down, the flu may prevent you from getting out of bed for several days. Flu symptoms typically begin 1-4 days after being infected and include a combination of these common symptoms:
- body aches or pain
- a cough
- general fatigue
- a headache
- a runny nose or nasal congestion
- a sore throat
Sometimes the flu can worsen and lead to a more serious situation. You should contact a physician if the following conditions persist for your loved one:
- 3-4 days of the above symptoms (see Symptoms of the Flu) that either don’t improve or worsen
- Breathing difficulty
- Chest pain
- Coughing with thick, yellow-green mucous
- High fever
- Shaking, chills
- Vomiting and nausea
Generally, older people are frailer so the flu can cause serious complications that don’t appear for those who are younger. In fact, over half the individuals who need to be hospitalized from flu symptoms each year are seniors. And sadly, around 90% of flu-related deaths annually occur in this aged-population as well.
One of the most common complications for seniors who contact the flu is pneumonia. Pneumonia causes a fluid buildup in the lungs, subsequently reducing the oxygen supply to the body tissues and the lungs. Typical symptoms include a dry cough that yields no phlegm or possibly small amounts of white/clear phlegm. Exhaustion, fever, headache, and overall muscle pain set in. Sometimes, the flu can also cause the chronic conditions of asthma, COPD, diabetes, emphysema, and heart disease. As the flu worsens, seniors may experience any number of other conditions, warranting an immediate trip to the doctor’s office. These serious conditions often include bronchitis, dehydration, ear infections, and encephalitis.
Definitely, an annual flu shot is recommended. Most insurance companies cover the immunization cost completely and there are many pharmacies that offer walk-in appointments for convenience. Quite common is having the flu shot administered on-site at the nursing or senior care facility to ensure easier access and a higher percentage of those residents receiving the immunization. But there are other precautions to take as well.
Since the flu spreads through the respiratory system by coughing or sneezing, it is best to avoid possible germs that are lingering in the air or around any items that the sick person has touched. Most common are doorknobs, elevator buttons, faucets, shopping cart handles, and telephones. And of course, try to stay away from those individuals who are sneezing and coughing. Wash your hands throughout the day with soap and water and also wash them before eating and when you have been around other people. Don’t touch your face (nose, mouth, and eyes) as you may transmit the germs into your body.
Continue to eat a well-balanced, nutritional diet and get your daily exercise to keep your immune system as strong as possible. This includes drinking plenty of water and other liquids to stay hydrated. It is also important to get a minimum of 8-hours of nightly sleep so your body is well-rested and is less susceptible to the onset of an illness.
In conclusion, just because the flu is a very common illness among people of all ages in the U.S., and especially among the elderly, this does not mean that your loved one needs to succumb to it. Understanding the symptoms, conditions, and precautions behind the flu will help them to lead a healthier life.
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