You're sick -- now what?!Feel better faster -- and stop spreading the misery -- with our doctor-approved guidelines.
First things first: Is it a cold or the flu? They share a handful of calling cards -- stuffy nose, sneezing, scratchy throat -- so look out for differences in severity. "Think of a toy train versus a real locomotive," says Brian Currie, M.D., M.P.H., an infectious-disease specialist in New York City. "Being hit by a toy train could hurt but is mostly just annoying -- that's a cold. Having the flu, however, feels as if you've been run over by a high-speed freight train." Especially when you throw in additional symptoms such as fever and muscle aches. While there's no cure for either virus, you can make your ordeal less agonizing -- and speed up recovery -- by knowing how to handle your symptoms. Behold, the best ways to get back on a healthy track.
If It's the Flu
1. The flu hits hard and fast. It's possible to feel fine in the a.m., then suddenly feel steamrolled come afternoon. Stop what you're doing -- no last-minute e-mails or moaning to colleagues -- and head home.
2. If you have ready access to an M.D. and can drag yourself to her office, stop in for prescription antiviral meds. (They won't nix the flu, but if used ASAP, they could shave a day off your sick time.) Otherwise, phone your mate or roomies and give fair warning.
3. Stock your bedside table with tissues, a thermometer, an eye mask, and your phone charger. You can expect to be bedridden for at least 72 hours. Rest is now your best (and only) friend; it allows your immune system to focus on producing chemicals called cytokines that attack virus cells. If you must talk to people, use your mobile or Skype.
4. Brew some green tea. Some studies show that drinking two to three cups per day can help speed up healing. Just hold the milk: Dairy can make phlegm thicker and more irritating -- not what you need right now.
5. Speaking of drinking, you'll need to suck down twice the amount of liquid you normally would. (Divide your body weight by two; that's the number of ounces you should drink in a day.) A virus-caused fever can usher in dehydration, which can prolong your illness. If you can drink in some electrolytes, even better. Try coconut water or Pedialite.
6. Despite the popular "starve a fever" adage, taking in calories is a great idea for bolstering your immune system. If you're up for it, slurp some chicken soup, which studies show has antiviral properties. You can also swallow some OTC ibuprofen or acetaminophen to relieve head or muscle aches or to quell fevers. (But don't bother with vitamin supplements; none have ever been proven to counteract the flu.)
7. At the three-day mark, if -- and only if -- you are on the mend, you can do some light stretching, take a brief walk, or try to work a bit from home. Start nibbling solid food -- sweet potatoes and scrambled eggs are nutrient-rich and gentle on your stomach -- but steer clear of anything with added sugar, which may hinder your immune response.
8. Most flus run their course in nine to 10 days. You should return to the office only after your symptoms have totally resolved and you're less likely to still be contagious. After that, take it easy -- your body needs a week or two to completely bounce back, so expect lower productivity and some lingering fatigue.
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