The good news is that for most people, influenza – or the flu – does not last too long.
But it does have a tendency to arrive suddenly and bring you down completely.
So, if there is a way to at least make the symptoms go away quickly, we all want to know about it!
Common flu symptoms
Flu symptoms typically appear one to four days after being exposed to the virus and they can last for five to seven days.
While the fever and other symptoms, such as a runny nose and sore throat, usually dissipate during this time, sometimes the cough can last longer than that, as can feeling fatigued.1
Babies, toddlers, people over 65, pregnant women, and people with chronic illnesses such as asthma or diabetes are at a greater risk of complications from influenza.
One possible complication is pneumonia.2
The stages of the flu
For most people, however, the flu follows a fairly predictable pattern.
During the first three days, you’ll suddenly get a fever, headache, muscle pain and muscle weakness, a sore throat, a dry cough, and sometimes a runny or blocked nose.
At around day four, the fever and the muscle aches should start to decrease. The hoarse, dry or sore throat may become more noticeable, along with the cough and some mild chest discomfort. You could also start to feel quite tired.
How long does the flu last?
By day eight, the symptoms should all be decreasing or gone, with the cough and tiredness holding out for week or two.3
The best flu treatment
The main way to treat the flu, if you are not in one of the at-risk groups, is to get a lot of rest and drink plenty of liquids.
Resting allows your body to use its energy to treat the infection, and fluids can replace those lost through the sweating and fever.4
You can also take pain relievers for the fever and headaches, and other similar symptoms.
People who are at high risk may see a doctor and be prescribed an antiviral at the early stage of the infection.5
While you cannot get your immune system to work faster in eradicating the flu, you can certainly remove any obstacles that would prolong the flu symptoms. And you can take steps to ease those symptoms.
Be sure to avoid smoking and make sure that you eat healthy foods. You can also try gargling with warm water to ease the sore throat.6
Echinacea and traditional herbal remedies for flu
Echinacea extracts are another possible option to dull flu symptoms (and cold symptoms also).
Echinacea may help to increase the number of white blood cells, which fight infections and are part of your body’s immune system.7
A few studies found that Echinacea reduced the duration of cold symptoms by 67%, if taken from the onset.
However, a cold is different to the flu, and other studies have turned up different results.8
Some studies have also found that Echinacea can help block the replication of influenza – something which you may not feel the benefit of from if you have the flu, but which could help protect people who you are in contact with.9
People mostly use echinacea as a traditional remedy for cold and flu symptoms such as stuffiness, sinus pressure, and sneezing.
Herbal teas are a great way to relieve some flu symptoms. Not only are they relaxing and soothing, but the liquid helps to prevent dehydration, while the heat and steam can help relieve nasal congestion.
Lemon and honey are great additions to any teas. Honey has some antiviral properties and its texture can provide some relief to a scratchy throat.9
Black and green tea contain catechin, which can have some anti-diarrhoea effects.11
Star anise, turmeric, ginger, garlic, and cloves often have antiviral and germ-fighting properties.12
Similarly, steamy showers can also help moisturise your nasal passages and help with generally feeling better.13
Tea tree oil may help to block the flu virus from multiplying, and therefore minimise it a little.
Tea tree oil works best when used as soon as you are infected. Other essential oils such as cinnamon, peppermint, eucalyptus and lemon oil may also provide some relief, or at the very least, some comfort.
You can also use the oils on your skin, in a carrier oil – particularly on your chest or under your nose.14
Last updated: 2 April 2021