Reviewed By: Pramod Kerkar, MD, FFARCSI

While prevention is certainly better than cure, there is no guarantee that we will never come down with any illness ever. No matter how many precautions we take, the common cold and flu are such ailments that nobody can avoid. While there is nothing we can do about the common cold except to battle it out, there are ways in which we can make the flu season a tad bearable by understanding how to detect the early symptoms of flu. From the tell-tale tickle that starts at the back of the throat to the sudden onset of fever, there are a number of signs and symptoms that signal that the flu is about to make an appearance. By being able to detect the early signs and symptoms of flu, you can take the necessary steps to prevent the flu virus from spreading and also possibly treat the illness before it worsens.

What are the Early Symptoms of Flu?

Some of the most common early symptoms that hint at the onset of flu include:

  • Body aches accompanied by chills.
  • Cough.
  • Fatigue.
  • Fever.
  • Sore throat.

Some may also suffer from gastrointestinal issues, and then there are also some early flu symptoms that are unique to children only. Let us see how we can begin to identify each of these symptoms and how to find relief before the condition worsens.

Body Ache Accompanied by Chills

These are also very common early symptoms of flu. On a day to day basis, you may tend to blame body aches on other factors, such as a workout, excessive walking or working, etc. Any part of the body can start aching without any previous warning, especially your legs, back and the head. If body ache is also accompanied by chills, this is likely a sign that you are about to come down with a fever as the flu tends to cause chills even before a fever actually develops. To feel better, wrap yourself in a blanket so that you can increase your body temperature and also lower the chills. If you continue to have body aches, then consider taking an over-the-counter pain relief medication, such as ibuprofen (Advil or Motrin) or acetaminophen (Tylenol).

Cough: A Common Symptom of Early Flu

Developing a persistent cough is usually an indication that you are coming down with something. Many people are unaware that a cough is also a warning sign of the flu. A cough accompanied by wheezing along with chest tightness can be caused by the flu virus. What is rare in the early stages of the flu is coughing up phlegm or mucus. In case you begin to have respiratory problems such as emphysema or asthma, then it is recommended that you consult your doctor in the early stages of getting a cough so that further complications can be prevented. Another warning sign is if you notice colored mucus. There are certain complications that arise from the flu as well, such as pneumonia and bronchitis.

To calm the persistent coughing, taking cough drops or some over-the-counter cough medication may help this early flu symptom. Also, keep your throat well hydrated and drink lots of water and herbal or green teas. If you can drink lukewarm water, it will help tremendously to battle against the other flu symptoms as well and the warmth will make your throat feel much better. Remember that the flu virus can spread through coughing, so always cover your mouth when you cough.

Fatigue: A Tiresome Early Flu Symptom

Flu season is generally marked by the change in weather as well. With the days becoming shorter and lesser amount of sunlight, the oncoming of winters definitely makes you feel tired in general. However, there is a difference between feeling tired and experiencing excessive fatigue. If you experience a feeling of sudden and extreme fatigue, it should get the alarm bells ringing in your head as this is one of the first signs of the flu, and often appears even before any of the other flu symptoms. While fatigue is also associated with the common cold, which is also a common affliction during the change of seasons, extreme fatigue that is a sign of flu is usually more severe than in the common cold. You may feel such extreme levels of tiredness and weakness that even carrying on with your daily activities may become a challenge. Therefore, if you begin to experience sudden and excessive fatigue, it is recommended that you limit your daily activities and allow your body to rest. You may also take a couple of days off from work; or in children's case, keep them at home from school, and stay in bed. Rest is needed to boost your immune system and allow it to fight off the flu virus.

Fever: A Common Early Flu Symptom

You will come down with a fever when your body has started to fight off the flu virus. Fevers that originate because of the flu tend to hover around 38oC or 100oF. It can go higher. Having a fever is yet another common symptom of the early stages of the flu, but keep in mind that not everybody having the flu will also have a fever.

Everyone's body reacts differently to infections. While the flu virus runs its course, you may also experience chills, with or without a fever. Ibuprofen and acetaminophen are some of the most common pain relieving and antipyretics that are easily available over-the-counter. While these medications will provide relief with your symptoms, they will not cure the infection.

Sore Throat: An Irritating Early Flu Symptom

The flu comes with many early symptoms, out of which persistent coughing can cause major discomfort in your throat. Coughing can also quickly cause a sore throat. In fact, some flu viruses can also cause inflammation of the throat, but without a cough. Therefore, you will usually notice that one of the first symptoms of the flu may also include the tell-tale tickling or scratching kind of feeling at the back of your throat. This irritation of the throat will make you want to constantly clear your throat to get relief. You may also experience pain while swallowing food or drinking. A sore throat becomes progressively worse as the flu progresses. Therefore, keep some herbal teas or green tea handy, have plenty of chicken soup, and stay hydrated by drinking a lot of water. If possible, gargling with warm water, salt, and baking soda provides immense relief from this early symptom of flu.

Early Flu Symptoms in Children

While the flu virus causes the above-mentioned symptoms in children as well, there may be other signs and symptoms in children that may require medical attention. These include:

  • Crying but without tears.
  • Being unable to eat or drink.
  • Not consuming enough fluids.
  • Having difficulty in urinating or not passing urine.
  • Having a fever with a rash.
  • Not interacting or not waking up.

While the symptoms of the flu and a common cold remain pretty much the same in children as well, you will notice that the severity of symptoms is much more when children have the flu. Lack of a fever might be an indication that it is instead a common cold. You can always call the doctor if your child appears to be unresponsive and lethargic or if you are concerned about any symptoms.

Other Early Flu Symptoms

While early flu symptoms generally tend to affect the head, the throat, and the chest, there are some flu viruses that can also cause nausea, diarrhea, vomiting, or stomach pain. In order to get relief from these flu symptoms, you must remain hydrated as dehydration is a potential complication of diarrhea and vomiting. You can also opt to drink a sports drink that has electrolytes, fruit juices, herbal or green teas, chicken soup, broth, etc.

Serious Flu Symptoms to Watch Out For

If you have the flu, your symptoms will become worse before getting any better. Every individual responds to the flu virus differently. Some may have mild to moderate symptoms, while others might be having severe flu symptoms. If you notice the following flu symptoms, then it is an indication for seeking immediate medical attention:

Conclusion

Everyone knows when the flu season is around the corner. Therefore, the top priority should be to take the necessary precautions to avoid falling sick. The flu virus can infect others by being airborne as well. Therefore, you may consider wearing a protective face mask during the peak flu season to save yourself from getting infected. If you do get diagnosed with the flu, do not rush through the recovery period. Resume work and your daily activities only after you have been free from a fever for 24 hours without taking any medication. Even without a fever, if you still feel that the flu symptoms are persisting, then consider taking rest till they improve. The recovery rate from flu varies from person to person, and you may still experience a feeling of lingering fatigue for a couple of weeks before you get better. Always consult your doctor if you notice your flu symptoms worsening.

Also Read:

Pramod Kerkar

Written, Edited or Reviewed By:

, MD,FFARCSI

Pain Assist Inc.

Last Modified On: July 12, 2018

This article does not provide medical advice. See disclaimer

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