Every fall and winter, the influenza virus puts millions of Americans at risk. Although health experts stress the importance of getting an annual flu shot, the CDC¹ reports approximately 17 million work days are missed each year because of the flu.

The good news is you can lower your chances of catching the flu by knowing its signs, symptoms, and causes. If you want to steer clear of the flu this year, here’s what you need to know.

Early Warning Signs of the Flu

It can be difficult to tell whether or not you have the flu. Often, symptoms of the flu can seem like nothing more than the common cold or a brief bout of allergies. However, as WebMD² notes, there’s a big difference between a cold and the flu: the flu comes on suddenly, with symptoms appearing seemingly out of nowhere.

If you experience the sudden onset of any of the following symptoms, you may have the flu:

Sudden Fatigue: When dealing with the common cold, it’s perfectly normal to feel a bit tired. However, the flu will make you feel exhausted. The flu can zap so much of your energy that it’s hard to move or get out of bed.

Body Aches: Body aches are a very common flu symptom. From your head to your legs, body aches can afflict virtually any area of the body.

Bad Cough: Often, the flu will cause a bad cough. It’s not uncommon to cough throughout the night.

Sore Throat: A sore throat tends to accompany the flu. However, the severity of the soreness will vary from one person to the next. While your throat may initially only feel a bit scratching, don’t be surprised if it becomes swollen over time.

Fever: A fever is the number one way to distinguish the flu from the common cold, WebMD³ reports. In an effort to naturally fight off the flu virus, your body will produce a fever.

Gastrointestinal Issues: Some strains of the flu bring on gastrointestinal problems. You might experience stomach pain, nausea, vomiting, or diarrhea.

If you’ve recently gotten your flu shot, you may experience a light case of some of these symptoms. Don’t worry unless the symptoms continue for days or worsen. It’s common to feel flu-like after receiving the vaccine.

How is the Flu Treated?

Treating the flu can be done entirely at home with over-the-counter medications and some quality rest. However, if you’re experiencing a severe case of the flu, you may need to visit your doctor for stronger medications – and the flu can land some people in the hospital.

To treat a case of the flu, try the following remedies to soothe your aches, pains, and symptoms:

Pain Relievers: Taking pain relievers can help you to feel more comfortable. Common medications like Advil, Tylenol, and Motrin can help reduce body aches, bring down your fever, and get rid of any sinus pressure or headaches.

Decongestants: By reducing swelling of the nasal passages, decongestants can help flu sufferers to breathe easier. Decongestants will help you eliminate all of the sinus pressure and mucus that makes it hard to breathe and sleep.

Antiviral Drugs: After being evaluated by a doctor, you could be prescribed an antiviral drug. Although antiviral drugs won’t cure the flu, they can help dramatically reduce the symptoms. These drugs can also help prevent serious complications such as the pneumonia.

Echinacea: Echinacea is an age-old herb that can help fight the flu. Although some supplements are derived from the root of the plant, echinacea flowers and leaves are more potent.

Zinc: Taking a zinc lozenge or syrup can aid your body’s ability to recover from the flu. It’s also a good idea to consume foods that are high in zinc like oysters, beef, yogurt, kidney beans, and cashews.

If these remedies don’t work, you’ll want to visit your doctor to treat the flu fast.

How Much Does Treatment Cost?

Treating the flu at home is by far the most cost-effective method. According to the University of Utah Health⁴, the average person spends around $130 treating the flu. But you don’t have to reach that number.

Zinc, salt, and echinacea, as well as over-the-counter pain relief and decongestant medications are all very inexpensive to buy. Most cases of the flu can be cleared up without spending more than a few dollars on medication from your local drugstore.

There’s only one treatment you need to avoid: antibiotics. Antibiotics are often not necessary when treating the flu virus. They’re unlikely to reduce the duration of the flu and they’re expensive. You stand to save a lot of extra money by skipping ineffective antibiotics.

Like anything, it’s always a good idea to be aware of the latest research. We recommend comparing at least 3 or 4 options before making a final decision. Doing a search online is typically the quickest, most thorough way to discover all the pros and cons you need to keep in mind.