As the temperatures plummet, the incidences of colds and flu seems to increase, especially among the elderly. While getting a cold or flu can be a miserable experience for anyone, if you’re an older person, contracting flu can have far more serious consequences than simply missing a few days from work, or being able to go out and have fun. Immune systems in older people are generally weaker than those in younger people, which means that the flu can develop into much more serious conditions, such as bronchitis and pneumonia, which can result in being admitted to hospital.
Symptoms of influenza
The symptoms of flu generally come to a peak after 2 to 3 days and last for anything up to a week, although you may continue to feel tired for several weeks afterwards. When you catch flu you will more than likely experience a fever, chills and headaches, accompanied by aching muscles and joint pain. You may also get a cough and sore throat too, and will feel very tired and run down, especially towards the end of the illness. This can lead to difficulty in sleeping , plus a decrease in appetite.
As flu is not caused by bacteria, but by the influenza virus, antibiotics won’t have any effect on its treatment, however there are many things you can do to decrease the chances of falling foul of the virus in the first place.
Prevention is the key
• Keep warm. Close doors and curtains to prevent unnecessary drafts, and put on extra clothing if necessary.
• Improve your immune system, by eating nutritious foods, including fruit and vegetables; drinking lots of water; keeping your stress levels down and getting plenty of quality rest.
• While we all love our grandchildren, they tend to carry all kinds of germs, which in turn develop into infections. If you know your grandchildren are ill, be extra careful with your personal hygiene.
• Which brings us on to hand washing. Always wash your hands after using the toilet and before eating, or consider using one of the bacterial hand gels at regular intervals, to keep germs at bay.
• Try to avoid touching your eyes, nose or mouth as much as you can to prevent transferring germs to them.
• Get a flu vaccination from your doctor, pharmacy or health centre. These are offered free for over 65’s or for those with an underlying condition, such as a heart problem or asthma. NHS figures show that flu jabs can reduce hospital admissions of older adults by up to 70%, and reduces the risk of death by 85%. However bear in mind that the flu virus changes each season, so you will need a new flu jab every year.
Watch for warning signs
Be on the lookout of signs that the flu is developing into something more serious and seek immediate medical attention if you, or the person you are caring for, experiences any of the following symptoms.
• Shortness of breath
• Chest pain
• Violent vomiting
• Signs of confusion
So don’t forget your flu jab!
The most important thing you can do to avoid the flu is to make sure that you get a flu jab every year. As the flu season often begins as early as October, it’s recommended that you get your jab as early as possible to allow your body to build up antibodies against the flu virus. This normally takes about two weeks.