Even though it may be a unique year due to COVID-19, this doesn’t mean that flu season has gone away. In fact, it seems that there is added pressure to avoid the flu this year due to its similarity to COVID-19. It is more important than ever to be able to be proactive about your family’s health, and if you do get sick, to be able to judge what type of illness you or your loved one is likely experiencing. This can really help you work with your doctor to know what your treatment and therapy options are, and even determine what home remedies can help ease any symptoms your family may be experiencing.
Is it COVID-19 or the Flu?
Both COVID-19 and the flu share the following symptoms (1, 2):
Fever and/or chills
Shortness of breath and/or difficulty breathing
Runny or stuffy nose
Muscle pain and/or body aches
Nausea or vomiting (more common in children)
Diarrhea (more common in children)
Though COVID-19 and the flu do have a lot in common, there are some key differences. While nausea, vomiting, and diarrhea can be a part of the flu, they are rather uncommon and are more closely associated with COVID-19 (1, 2). And while a stuffy or runny nose can occur due to COVID-19, it is more often linked to the flu (1, 2). Additionally, any loss of taste or smell is very uncommonly caused by the flu and can point to the illness being COVID-19 (1, 2). In terms of when symptoms begin to show up, most people who are infected with the flu develop symptoms after 1-4 days, whereas COVID-19 can take much longer (1). COVID-19 symptoms usually show up about 5 days after first being infected, though the range can be anywhere from 2-14 days (1, 2). Even equipped with this knowledge, it is always worth getting the advice of a health professional if you, your child, or someone else in your household is ill.
Conventional Treatment Options for the Flu
Just as there are antibacterial medicines for bacterial infections, there are antiviral drugs that can treat the flu virus (3). Because most people can get over the flu relatively quickly and without long-term damage, antiviral medicines are usually reserved for those with specific health concerns or who have become very ill. This higher-risk population includes those who are pregnant, under 5, over 65, have chronic conditions such as asthma, heart disease, diabetes, or chronic kidney disease, or are ill with AIDS or cancer (4). Beyond that, common advice from sources like the CDC and Mayo Clinic include staying home, resting, drinking plenty of water and clear fluids, taking acetaminophen or ibuprofen to reduce fever, and avoiding close contact with others inside and outside of your home (4, 5, 6). It is recommended that anyone experiencing warning sign symptoms such as severe trouble breathing, bluish lips or face, severe muscle pain, fever over 104 degrees, or dehydration should seek medical care right away (5).
Functional Treatment for the Flu
While functional medicine can also recommend the above treatments (especially increasing fluid intake and good rest), there are also a few other areas of focus when it comes to navigating flu season. A huge part of general wellness, and the ability to fight and recover from illness quickly, is focusing on the 5 Pillars of Health. Getting quality sleep, regular exercise, good nutrition, managing stress, and building strong relationships and emotional health all work together to create a healthy and resilient body. Our doctors and Functional Nutrition & Lifestyle Practitioners would love to work with you on adapting your lifestyle to invest in these five areas of health.
There are a few additional ways to focus more specifically on strengthening your immune system in order to prevent illness. Improving your barrier integrity (meaning, all the lining of your body that comes into contact with the outside world, including your respiratory tract, gut, blood-brain barrier, and skin) is a great way to increase resistance to pathogens. Washing your hands frequently and promoting skin health through good nutrition, including sources of Vitamin D and Vitamin C, are a great way to do this.
Other ways to encourage a strong immune system include promoting your body’s production of infection-fighting antimicrobial peptides and phagocytic cells (white blood cells that fight against pathogens and infected cells). Eating a healthy and varied diet that includes Vitamin D3, Vitamin B12, folate, fermented foods, lean proteins, and even echinacea and probiotics can all help your body resist infection.
Supplements are an excellent way to boost nutrition and ensure you get enough of the vitamins listed above. Other essential immune-boosting supplements include probiotics with Saccharomyces boulardii, beta-glucan, and melatonin. And if you or other adults in your family do get sick, there are a few other great supplement options to help your body heal quickly. Mushroom extracts, magnesium, fish oil, zinc, enzyme blends such as Mucostop, and even herbal blends like Biocidin TS Throat Spray can all work together to help you get through any sickness more quickly. For children who are sick, Vitamin D3, Vitamin C, Argentyn 23 Colloidal Silver, curcumin, and beta-glucan are safe options for promoting their defense systems to heal quickly. Along with our doctors and nutrition practitioners, our Family & Pediatric Nurse Practitioner is an excellent resource to help you determine which supplements are right for you and your child.
Other Home Remedies to Help Fight the Flu
When you or your family are sick and are already getting good sleep and nutrition, taking your supplements, and focusing on the other aspects of health listed above, you may still want an extra boost to get some relief from the flu.
Honey is a great antimicrobial sweetener, and one study even found that it reduced nighttime coughing and sleep difficulty in children ages 1-5 (honey should not be fed to children younger than age 1) (7, 8). For an added boost of fluids and Vitamin C, try mixing honey with hot water and some lemon juice.
Garlic is another common food with antiviral and antimicrobial properties, and one study found that taking garlic supplements daily resulted in fewer flu-like illnesses overall (9). Another found that garlic supplements may boost immune cells to survive longer and activate more, which can help reduce overall flu severity (10). Raw and cooked garlic is very easy to incorporate into your meals along with the convenience of garlic supplements.
Ginseng is a natural remedy that may help reduce the occurrence or severity of flu-related respiratory symptoms (11, 13). It is widely available in supplement and tea form and may even be available in raw form locally.
Menthol is a classic flu and cold remedy, and for good reason! One study found that inhaling menthol greatly reduces cough sensitivity and general airway discomfort and may increase capacity for the volume of air entering the lungs (12). It can also greatly improve sleep in children and adults who are having trouble sleeping due to flu-related symptoms (11). However, it is important to be careful when using menthol, either on skin or as part of steam inhalation, as it may cause irritation.
When to Reach Out to Us
If you or a family member are experiencing non-emergency flu-like symptoms, please feel free to call us! We will work together with you to determine the best course of action to help you heal and recover. If you aren’t sick but want to focus on any aspect of your health including boosting your immune system, we would love to hear from you too. It is our joy to partner with our patients of all ages to support each aspect of their health.
Jonathan Vellinga, MD is an Internal Medicine practitioner with a broad interest in medicine. He graduated Summa cum laude from Weber State University in Clinical Laboratory Sciences and completed his medical degree from the Medical College of Wisconsin.
Upon graduation from medical school, he completed his Internal Medicine residency at the University of Michigan. Dr. Vellinga is board-certified with the American Board of Internal Medicine and a member of the Institute for Functional Medicine.
Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. (2021, January 27). Diagnosing Flu. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. https://www.cdc.gov/flu/symptoms/testing.htm.
Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. (2021, January 27). Similarities and Differences between Flu and COVID-19. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. https://www.cdc.gov/flu/symptoms/flu-vs-covid19.htm.
Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. (2021, January 25). What You Should Know About Flu Antiviral Drugs. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. https://www.cdc.gov/flu/treatment/whatyoushould.htm.
Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. (2021, January 25). Caring for Someone Sick. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. https://www.cdc.gov/flu/treatment/caring-for-someone.htm.
Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. (2021, January 25). Flu: What To Do If You Get Sick. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. https://www.cdc.gov/flu/treatment/takingcare.htm.
Mayo Foundation for Medical Education and Research. (2020, October 9). Self-care for the flu. Mayo Clinic. https://www.mayoclinic.org/diseases-conditions/swine-flu/expert-answers/swine-flu-symptoms/faq-20058379.
MediLexicon International. The best home remedies for cold and flu. Medical News Today. https://www.medicalnewstoday.com/articles/324607#honey.
Cohen, H. A., Rozen, J., Kristal, H., Laks, Y., Berkovitch, M., Uziel, Y., … Efrat, H. (2012, September 1). Effect of Honey on Nocturnal Cough and Sleep Quality: A Double-blind, Randomized, Placebo-Controlled Study. American Academy of Pediatrics. https://pediatrics.aappublications.org/content/130/3/465.
Lissiman E, Bhasale AL, Cohen M. Garlic for the common cold. Cochrane Database of Systematic Reviews 2014, Issue 11. Art .No.: CD006206. DOI: 10.1002/14651858.CD006206.pub4.
The Journal of Nutrition, Volume 146, Issue 2, February 2016, Pages 433S–436S, https://doi.org/10.3945/jn.115.210427
Allan, G. M., & Arroll, B. (2014). Prevention and treatment of the common cold: making sense of the evidence. CMAJ : Canadian Medical Association journal = journal de l'Association medicale canadienne, 186(3), 190–199. https://doi.org/10.1503/cmaj.121442
Millqvist, E., Ternesten-Hasséus, E., & Bende, M. (2012, December 22). Inhalation of menthol reduces capsaicin cough sensitivity and influences inspiratory flows in chronic cough. Respiratory Medicine. https://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/pii/S0954611112004283.
Mousa H. A. (2017). Prevention and Treatment of Influenza, Influenza-Like Illness, and Common Cold by Herbal, Complementary, and Natural Therapies. Journal of evidence-based complementary & alternative medicine, 22(1), 166–174. https://doi.org/10.1177/215658721664183