What Causes Flu Symptoms?

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As a flu season for the record books marches on worldwide, officials are asking people to take extra caution in helping prevent its spread. Practicing good hygiene, avoiding large crowds, and recognizing symptoms are a must for keeping the flu in check.

What exactly is the flu? Short for the “influenza virus”, the flu is a living virus which can be spread through…

  • coughing.
  • sneezing.
  • touching a surface contaminated with the virus and then touching your mouth, nose or eyes.

The virus itself infects cells and then quickly replicates itself to infect other cells. As it spreads, more and more debilitating symptoms present. Check out this quick guide for better understanding your flu symptoms:

Fever

As the body’s immune response kicks into high gear to fight off the influenza virus, it releases chemicals into the bloodstream called pyrogens. When pyrogens reach the brain, the hypothalamus region which controls temperature is cued to start raising the body temperature.

The common belief is that the body triggers this response to foster a hostile environment in which to ward off the virus, however, a temperature over 104 degrees Fahrenheit can threaten normal cell functioning and lead to seizures, delirium, necrosis and more. Monitor fevers closely with reliable thermometers. Take action to bring them down when they climb too high (i.e. medicine, cold packs, remove clothing, etc).

Chills & Sweating

Chills are actually your body’s way of “warming” you up if it perceives you are cold. Sweat is its way of cooling you down if your core temperature rises above normal. Chills often precede a fever and may look like shivering or shaking (rapid muscle contraction and expansion).

Aches

Commonly, the onset of the flu will involve waking up with mild to severe aches and muscle and joint soreness. This occurs largely in the arms, legs, and back. What causes these aches specifically? Turns out the white blood cells which normally are tasked with muscle tissue repair are pulled away from this job when the flu virus attacks and they are redirected towards fighting off the virus itself.

This in combination with the cytokines they produce, small proteins cells produce as part of the immune response, can lead to painful (albeit temporary) muscle and joint inflammation. And as your body temperature rises, blood vessels in your head may dilate and increase the pressure in your skull leading to serious headaches.

Nasal Issues

Sinus problems including nasal congestion, stuffy nose, and runny nose are common to both the flu. They are also common in colds and even seasonal allergies. When the flu virus attacks, it can irritate and inflame blood vessels in the nose leading to stuffiness and congestion. At the same time, mucous membranes in the nasal cavities will kick into high gear producing fluid and mucus aimed at flushing out unwanted germs, hence a runny nose.

Other Common Symptoms

While an overproduction of mucus can lead to a runny nose, it can also drip down the back of your throat, irritating and inflaming the tissues there and causing a sore throat. People with the flu also commonly experience waves of fatigue, dry or hacking coughs, and even nausea or vomiting (more common in children).

Complications from the Flu

People who are killed by the flu actually die from complications associated with having the flu. For example, the flu can lead to fatal pneumonia. It can also exacerbate existing asthma or heart problems as well as bronchitis and even ear infections.

If you think you have the flu, get to the doctor as soon as possible.

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