Cold and flu season could be more unpleasant than usual this year, experts say. Along with getting your flu shot, it doesn’t hurt to brush up on flu basics so you know what to expect if you get sick this year.
One thought that might pop up if you start feeling really crummy (and your COVID test comes back negative): How long does the flu last?
Unfortunately, there is no single answer, Neha Vyas, MD, a family physician at the Cleveland Clinic, tells SELF. The flu can hit you like a ton of bricks, but how long that feeling will last largely depends on your personal health (and how well you take care of yourself when you start to feel sick).
Before we get to the details, let us remind you again: please try to get your flu shot and your updated COVID reminder by the end of October, which can help protect you, as well as the vulnerable people around you. “The more people who are vaccinated, the lower the risk in that community,” says Dr. Vyas. « It will protect people. »
That said, if you catch the flu, you can expect to be out of service for at least a few days. Here’s what you need to know as we settle into the colder months.
How long does the flu last for most people?
If you are under 65 and generally healthy, you can probably expect the worst flu symptoms, which may include fever or chills, cough, sore throat, runny nose, runny or clogged, body aches, headaches and severe fatigue. — to last between three and seven days, says Dr. Vyas. For adults who have had the flu shot, it will likely take almost three days for symptoms to begin to subside; for unvaccinated people, it may take longer.
That said, it’s not uncommon to feel exhausted for a while or end up with a persistent cough, so it can take up to two weeks to really start feeling exhausted again, according to Dr. Vyas. Symptoms can be stubborn for anyone, but can be especially persistent for people who fall into a high risk groupaccording to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC).
The flu can be more severe or last longer in children, the elderly, pregnant women, and people with underlying conditions that may affect their immunity or respiratory health, such as diabetes, heart disease or asthma, among others.
Can you make your flu symptoms disappear faster?
Wouldn’t that be lovely? Sorry to break the bad news, but there is no quick or easy way to recover from the flu. Although antiviral drugs are available for people who are at higher risk of complications, such as pneumonia, these drugs don’t make sense for everyone, Dr. Vyas says. They also require a prescription, so you’ll want to talk to your doctor to find out if this is an option for you.
If you’re generally healthy, you’ll basically have to wait for your body to do its thing and recover on its own. So expect some downtime. You can actually prolong your symptoms by trying to overcome the disease, says Dr. Vyas. “You have to rest to recover,” she explains.
That means getting enough sleep, drinking plenty of fluids (soup counts!), avoiding alcohol, and taking over-the-counter cold and flu medicine if you’re feeling very unwell, says Dr. Vyas. Also, it is the time to stay home and away from others, especially high-risk people like a grandparent or younger cousin. « We generally don’t recommend people go back to work until they haven’t had a fever for 24 hours, » says Dr. Vyas.
We get it: No one wants to be stuck in bed for days on end, but that’s usually the best-case scenario if you catch this bug. So, to keep you and your loved ones safe, be sure to wash your hands frequently (and keep unwashed hands away from your face); disinfect frequently touched surfaces in your home often; cover your mouth when coughing or sneezing; consider wearing a face mask in crowded public spaces; and google »flu vaccine near me” to schedule your appointment if you haven’t already.