How Long Does the Flu Last?

Ways to get better as quickly as possible

Mother taking daughter’s temperature
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Having the flu can make you absolutely miserable—so miserable it may seem as if the coughing, fever, and utter exhaustion will never end. It will, but it's likely you're going to feel pretty awful for a while.

What's more, there's not much you can do to shorten the amount of time you're sick: Flu is caused by a virus and therefore won't respond to antibiotics, which only work their magic on bacterial infections. Most of the time, you'll have to deal with your symptoms and ride out your illness.

Typical Flu Duration

The flu typically lasts for as few as three days to as many as two weeks. If you act quickly, though, you may be able to shorten the length of time you're sick by taking an antiviral medication such as Tamiflu (oseltamivir) or Relenza (zanamivir). For these drugs to work, they need to be started within 48 hours of when symptoms start and they're only available by prescription, so as soon as you suspect you're coming down with the flu, see your doctor.

If you continue to feel really ill for more than a couple of weeks, call your doctor. You may have developed a secondary infection or illness. Bronchitis, pneumonia, sinus infections, and ear infections are common flu complications. You also should see your doctor if you start to feel better but then get much worse, especially if you have a high fever.

How the Flu Shot Factors In

If you had a flu shot this season but got sick anyway, that shot in the arm you took probably wasn't a total waste. Even though it didn't prevent you from being infected with the influenza virus, it may prevent you from getting as sick as you might have otherwise. Studies have shown that most people who are vaccinated and come down with the flu anyway tend to have milder symptoms and are less likely to develop complications or secondary infections.

But if you really want to feel better as quickly as possible, the key thing is to get plenty of rest. Stay home from work, delegate duties at home to family members, reschedule meet-ups with friends. In other words, don't push yourself to do anything your body is clearly telling you not to.

When you have the flu, the utter fatigue you feel is for a reason: Your immune system is working hard to fight off the influenza virus and needs the energy to do that. By not honoring the need to sleep and rest, you could end up making your flu last longer.

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