If you recently caught the flu (influenza), chances are the symptoms really knocked you down for the count. The fever, chills, sore throat, stuffy nose, cough and body aches can really do a number on your body.
Now that the worst seems to be over, what should you expect next? Are you still contagious? Is it OK to go back to work? Can you get back to exercising, or should you take it easy for a while?
Russell Horton, DO, a physician at Banner Health Center in Queen Creek, AZ, answers some common questions and shares important steps you can take to aid in your post-flu recovery.
Common after-flu questions answered
How long does it take to recover from the flu?
“Typically, an uncomplicated flu can last about a week,” Dr. Horton said. “However, having other chronic conditions or chronic respiratory diseases like asthma could extend symptoms or lead to more serious disease, health problems or complications.”
While your fever, sore throat and body aches may be gone, you may experience what is called flu fatigue, which may leave you feeling worn out for some time. However, if you are still feeling sick after a week, contact your doctor so you can be evaluated.
How long will I be contagious with the flu?
You can potentially start shedding (or spreading) the flu virus from one to two days (24 to 48 hours) before you start experiencing symptoms, and up to five days after symptoms start. “Sometimes in children or older adults this can be longer though,” Dr. Horton noted.
Even if you’re feeling better a couple days later, you’ll still want to limit your interactions with others as you can remain contagious up to several days after symptoms start.
When can I return to work or school after the flu?
You may be tempted to get back to work or school to minimize any disruption or missed schoolwork, but in the long run you may do yourself more harm—and potentially others harm as well. That’s because the flu can spread more quickly in enclosed spaces, like offices and classrooms, so going back before you’re fully recovered can put others at risk for catching the flu from you.
“Make sure you are fever-free for at least 24 hours (without the use of fever medications),” Dr. Horton said. “How much time you take off will also depend on how severe your symptoms are, but generally it should be roughly four to five days after your symptoms began.”
What should I disinfect or throw out after getting the flu?
The fortunate thing after getting the flu is that it’s not common to have a repeat flu infection in the same season. The bad news is someone else in your home can get it. So, what should you focus on disinfecting and what should you just toss out to reduce the risk that you spread the flu to family members? Dr. Horton shared these tips for people with the flu:
- Routinely disinfect surfaces like door handles and frequently touched surfaces
- Avoid sharing food and drinks and hand or bath towels
- Place all tissues in a lined wastebasket and change out once a day
- Keep your toothbrush isolated from other family members
- Once you’ve recovered, sanitize your dirty clothes, towels and bedding in hot water and bleach or laundry sanitizer. Once the cycle is done, run an empty cycle with hot water.
How long should I wait to exercise?
Besides having the flu, you may be fit as a fiddle. While this may be the case, give your body the space it needs to recover. Rushing back into exercise can make your symptoms more severe and put others around you at risk if you are still contagious.
Avoid strenuous exercise for about a week or two. If you are still itching to get moving, go for a walk or leisurely bike ride—but make sure you are still getting plenty of rest.
Why am I dizzy after getting the flu?
Flu symptoms often deter some from eating and drinking, however, this can usually lead to dizziness—especially when you’re dehydrated.
“Dizziness can also occur as a post-viral condition where the inner ear is affected causing varying degrees of dizziness,” Dr. Horton said.
If you’re experiencing persistent dizziness, let your doctor know.
Steps to aid your post-flu recovery
While there is no “cure” for the flu, there are a number of steps you can take to ease symptoms and get yourself back on the road to recovery.
- Wash your hands often with warm water and antibacterial soap
- Take it easy and get plenty of rest
- Drink plenty of fluids
- Take a multivitamin with zinc
- Maintain a healthy diet and lifestyle
- Get a flu vaccine next year! This helps prevent severe disease and protects more vulnerable people at higher risk who you may come in contact with.
Learn more about preventing the flu at bannerhealth.com. And for other cold and flu-related content, check out:
- 8 Ways to Help Keep Your Family Healthy This Winter
- Feeling Miserable: Is It a Cold or The Flu?
- COVID-19 and the Flu: Know the Symptoms
- Flu Myths and Facts