How can I feel better right now?
December 24, 2014 7:21 AM   Subscribe

I haven't had anything worse than a mild sniffle in years, but now I'm down with a raging flu. I feel horrible and am getting cabin feverish, and I HATE IT. Do you have any tips or tricks for me to feel better right now?

It's a typical flu-like illness, with intense muscle aches and pains, extreme exhaustion, feverish chills (though no actual fever), mucus, and a cough. The cough is so horrible; it's so painful in both the throat and in my diaphragm that I'm actually afraid to cough.

Mostly I've just been sleeping as much as possible for the last two days. I took a hot bath yesterday and that helped for a little while but I started shivering before the water was cold. I'm taking AlkaSeltzer Cold + Flu—the packets you mix into hot water— which at least is soothing the cough a little.

I hardly ever get sick so I have no tried-and-true remedies. A friend is going to stop by after a Walgreens run today—what drugs should she pick up? And is there anything else I can or should do at home to 1) feel better; 2) occupy myself? I'm at drag-myself-from-bed-to-couch levels of exhaustion, which cuts out most of the things I would do.
posted by peachfuzz to Health & Fitness (42 answers total) 9 users marked this as a favorite
I'm a fan of a medicinal hot toddy (for me, hot tea with shitloads of lemon and honey, and a very healthy pour of cheap whisky). I do this particularly when I have nasty sore throat/chest/cough. If nothing else, I sleep better after one. It's one of the few treats of being sick. FWIW during really bad multi-day illnesses I go through a ton of honey, so you might ask your friend to get you an extra jar just in case.

I also love Mucinex DM for my mucousy coughs, but I usually get those independently, not as part of a flu, so I don't know whether it'll help similarly.

Sorry. Feel better!
posted by olinerd at 7:26 AM on December 24, 2014 [5 favorites]

If the cough is that bad your doctor might prescribe you codeine cough syrup. Super effective, plus opiates make everything better.
posted by J. Wilson at 7:37 AM on December 24, 2014 [6 favorites]

Do you have a heating pad? It's nice in much the same way as a hot bath, but it is less work.

Reading books or watching TV is about all you should expect to do while you are this sick. I hope you're better soon.
posted by artistic verisimilitude at 7:56 AM on December 24, 2014 [1 favorite]

If you can set up a _steam_ humidifier, that could be quite helpful. I see you're in Denver, and I think it can be quite dry there. More moisture in the air will really help your airways.

I recommend steam because a) it's nice and warm, and b) I had a "cool mist" humidifier once, and was sick for a really long time. It turned out that the humidifier was growing mold and my illness was extended by some really awful allergies.

However, if you only have access to a "cool mist" humidifier, and you're careful to keep it clean, that can be helpful also.
posted by amtho at 8:18 AM on December 24, 2014

Hydrocodone cough syrup also exists -- my doc prescribed it last year when I told him my cough was preventing me from sleeping. Like codeine, it also improves one's mood (same ingredient as in vicodin, if you've had that).
posted by ecsh at 8:26 AM on December 24, 2014

Mucinex-D (not just regular Mucinex) is your friend. It's not prescription but they keep it behind the pharmacy counter because you can make meth out of it. Using humidifier is great and *chug* hot water with honey. Then sleep, sleep, sleep.
posted by Toddles at 8:26 AM on December 24, 2014

You can take ibuprofen and paracetamol together, they don't interact. Just remember there is also paracetamol in lemsip-style drinks, so be careful not to take too much.

Generally, drink plenty of fluids, do try to eat something even if it's just chocolate, and honey and lemon tea is really soothing. I personally like warmed plum wine, it is like warm cough syrup and the alcohol takes the edge off the viraemia and helps you sleep. And try to bathe and brush your teeth at least daily, lying in bed all day with a fever will make you feel sweaty and icky and you will feel much better clean.
posted by tinkletown at 8:30 AM on December 24, 2014

Sorry, that's the worst. I hope you feel better soon. One thing that helped me the last time I had a bad cough was eating tiny spoonfuls of honey (cough drops didn't help much, unfortunately). Drinking lots of water will also with the cough. Coughing is actually good to clear things out, though, so I don't think a full cough suppressant/cough syrup is a great idea (and I don't think doctors recommend it anymore).
posted by three_red_balloons at 8:57 AM on December 24, 2014

Cough suppressants are awesome for when you need to sleep. If you can't sleep for coughing, see if you can get a scrip fro codeine cough syrup (I'm assuming you're in the US).

Otherwise, the last time I was that sick: all the tea in the world, usually a mix of mint and ginger, with some honey mixed in, and instant miso soup. I did try to keep track of how much Tylenol was in all the various cold meds I was taking because I didn't want stomach or liver troubles in addition to the cold/flu I had. Feel better soon!
posted by rtha at 9:06 AM on December 24, 2014

Theraflu or Mucinex DM + one glass of wine and you will see your spirit animal.
posted by bobdow at 9:43 AM on December 24, 2014 [1 favorite]

Nyquil (or a generic equivalent) is the best for me when I'm sick. If I'm at home, I take it during the day as well - more sleep = faster recovery.

As rtha says, it's good to keep track of how much acetaminophen (Tylenol) you take, especially if you are taking multiple types of medication. The FDA suggests that you do not have any alcohol while taking acetaminophen due to the risk of liver damage.

And I agree that codeine cough syrup is almost magic!
posted by insectosaurus at 10:05 AM on December 24, 2014

You could also try to get some Tamiflu but it might be too late as you need to take it within the first two days of symptoms.
posted by bleep at 10:09 AM on December 24, 2014

For the actual flu, sorry. Nothing will make it better but time and rest. It is a terrible illness; the last time I had it, I was down for three weeks, and the first of those I needed a caretaker I was so ill. However, this:

The cough is so horrible; it's so painful in both the throat and in my diaphragm that I'm actually afraid to cough.

makes me wonder if it's not a possibility that you have pertussis, in which case antibiotics are probably a pretty good idea.
posted by KathrynT at 10:37 AM on December 24, 2014 [2 favorites]

Mucinex or some off brand of the main ingredient (guaifenesin). It is an expectorant and will help with the cough. Make sure you get plenty of fluids and a little extra salt in your diet if you are taking Mucinex/guaifenesin. It works much less well if you aren't well hydrated and getting adequate salt for fostering a productive cough.

I don't do so well with blue dyes and other additives, so I far prefer the off brands that do not contain them. Bonus: They cost a LOT less. Kmart has an off brand, so does CVS Pharmacy and likely a few other places I am forgetting. Friend could ask at Walgreens if they have some off-brand version of it.

Occupy yourself with TV, computer games, other things that are mentally engaging but not physically demanding. I have known people who liked watching X Files when they were ill because it is a bit on the intellectual side but it is still passive TV viewing. It's a bit too on the creepy side for me when I don't feel well. I liked watching House and NCIS marathons. I also liked playing SimCity or some other computer game. Gridland is an online game that has some elements of mindless clicking and some elements of strategy. There have been times when that hit exactly the right note for me.

I sometimes recover a bit faster from colds and flu by washing my bedding more frequently.
posted by Michele in California at 10:43 AM on December 24, 2014

I also get those horrible muslce aches too, that's the worst! I agree a heating pad is great. You can get decent ones at the drugstore, but if your neck and shoulders are achey you can't go wrong with this sucker. I also like those Thermacare heat wraps, especially overnight.

Make sure to stay hydrated!

I always thought this was silly but my doctor actually recommended inhaling steam. I pretty much boiled water in my kettle then stuck my face over it (careful at first until you figure out a good distance so you don't burn yourself!). It helps clear out the mucous and keep everything moist.

For pain you can take Tylenol (acetamenaphin), Advil (ibuprofin), and Aleve (Naproxen) all at the same time to help with the headaches and aches (just be careful not to go over the daily dose for each).

If you don't have cough drops, I find them really helpful. You don't need the nasty medicated kind, Ludens will do. They really cut down on the coughing and tickling.

If you don't have Netflix, this is a good time to use their free month trial! Personally I'm like Michele in California, I don't like stuff that's too serious when I'm sick. Recently I was home recovering from surgery and I watched stuff like White Collar (also recommended because Matt Bomer is serious eye candy), Burn Notice, Psych - engaging but not too serious. Also I watched a lot of kids movies (The Muppet Movie!).
posted by radioamy at 11:28 AM on December 24, 2014

IANYD - I would use acetaminophen and ibuprofen OR naproxen (but don't take both ibuprofen and naproxen together as they are both NSAIDs and you will increase your risk of side effects). These medications will help get rid of the fever/chills and muscle aches, which is most of what makes you feel miserable with the flu. And drink plenty of fluids.
posted by treehorn+bunny at 11:36 AM on December 24, 2014

Fuck all that shit. Theraflu. Mix that shit with some hot water and drink that bitch down. It will take your flu and totally fuck that shit up. Srsly, it is like the tactical nuke of cold remedies. Ther a fluuuuu!!
posted by sexyrobot at 11:56 AM on December 24, 2014 [4 favorites]

Be cautious when combining "cold and flu" medications. Theraflu, for example, has a full dose of acetaminophen in it. Most people who accidentally overdose on Tylenol do so because they do not realize they are taking multiple medications containing the same ingredient.
posted by treehorn+bunny at 12:09 PM on December 24, 2014 [8 favorites]

Piling on re: the importance of staying hydrated, especially if you're taking a cough suppressant. If you find drinking tap water unpleasant, you could ask your friend to pick up some flavoring (peppermint? almond?) to make it go down easier.

When I have a tight, unproductive cough (that hurts the worst for me) I try to drink a gallon a day. Put that gallon container on top of the toilet. When I pee it out, I immediately refill my water bottle.

I always feel better when I wear comfy comfy clothing—long underwear, a loose wool/cotton top, a microfleece jacket, plus very plush wool socks, and a loose cotton knit cap. This minimizes the drafts that can set one chilling, and makes it easier for me to fall asleep wherever.

You have my sympathies.
posted by Jesse the K at 12:24 PM on December 24, 2014 [1 favorite]

Elderberry extract. It really works, it's been proven in clinical trials. It will be with the herbal supplements at the drug store; you can get capsules or syrup. Feel better!
posted by caryatid at 12:39 PM on December 24, 2014 [1 favorite]

Drink plenty of fluids, especially warm fluids. (Chicken soup really can help.) The proverbial honey and lemon hot drink can help. Here's an easy recipe maybe your friend could do for you:

If you don't have a steam humidifier, then try breathing steam periodically; I've found this helps me quite a bit:
Steam inhalation involves sitting with your head over a bowl of hot water. Place a towel over your head, close your eyes and breathe deeply. Avoid getting the hot steam in your eyes.

Warm bath and then bundle up immediately.

There are some really nasty flus going around now, that include a bad cough, so that is probably what you have. KathrynT is right though to bring up Whooping Cough/Pertussis.
You should see a doctor if prolonged coughing spells cause you to:

Turn red or blue
Inhale with a whooping sound
posted by gudrun at 12:42 PM on December 24, 2014

Response by poster: Auugh this is awesome. Why don't they teach this Life 101 stuff in school? Extra props to those who pointed out the dangers of taking too much acetaminophen—I knew you weren't supposed to take too much of...something...or take it combined with...something else, but clearly I needed some eddication about it.

Random extra questions:

1) Can I keep taking my AlkaSeltzer/TheraFlu stuff and ALSO take ibuprofen for the aches?
2) Can I drink alcohol while taking so much acetaminophen (three doses daily, the box says not to exceed five)? A hot toddy sounds mighty cozy but I don't want to break my liver, either.
3) Staying hydrated—it hurts awfully to drink plain water, I think because my throat is so raw. Flavored drinks don't seem to be a problem, I'm assuming because they have some salt in them, but I can't drink hot drinks fast enough to stay hydrated. I'm not a big juice drinker but my friend can pick some up for me—any suggestions for good ones?
posted by peachfuzz at 12:53 PM on December 24, 2014

You don't have to drink plain water to stay hydrated. Just get any fluids into you.

In fact, you don't necessarily have to DRINK anything to stay hydrated. Worst case scenario: Take a warm (not hot) bath with salt in the water. You will absorb water through your skin. (I have done this. My sons have done this. It works.)

Avoiding sitting directly in front of a heater, doing things that make you hot, etc. Those will cause you to sweat and promote dehydration. Dehydration is not just an artifact of drinking too little. It is also an artifact of other processes that dry you out faster than normal.
posted by Michele in California at 12:59 PM on December 24, 2014

Avoid alcohol for now (better safe etc.). For juice, I like grapefruit, cut to about half strength with plain fizzy water.
posted by rtha at 12:59 PM on December 24, 2014 [1 favorite]

When I am trying to avoid coughing, I slather a thick layer of Vicks Vapor Rub on my chest, add some peppermint or eucalyptus oil if I need to be decongested, and sit in a steamy tub with the shower curtain closed to keep the steam in. Then, I slather Vapor Rub on the bottom of my feet and put socks on before bed. It could be placebo effect... but I swear it works.
posted by raspberrE at 1:33 PM on December 24, 2014

My Ex had bad allergies that led to severe blocked nasal passages every spring and fall.

What seemed to work errytime: Ginger Tea. None of this weak-ass English tea; but good old fashioned Indian Chai.

1/2 milk + 1/2 water (amount as needed). Bring it to boil, reduce heat to simmer. Add Indian CTC leaf Assam tea (1 TSP per 8 oz cup of tea) and simmer for 1 minute. Meanwhile grate about 1/2" Ginger. Add the grated ginger after taking the Tea off the heat. Steep for 30 seconds. Strain, add sugar/sweetener. Enjoy.
posted by indianbadger1 at 2:52 PM on December 24, 2014

I love hot lemonade. Lemon juice with honey and water is great, but heating up store-bought lemonade works just fine too.
posted by mareli at 5:26 PM on December 24, 2014

And canned fruit, like peaches and pears. For some reason they always make me feel better and they go down real easy.
posted by mareli at 5:27 PM on December 24, 2014

Audio books are good entertainment when you feel so bad you can't watch TV or get comfortable with a book.
posted by SandiBeech at 5:30 PM on December 24, 2014

Response by poster: Okay, sorry about the disgusting Christmas Eve threadsitting, but now my coughs are more painful but also more productive, and the mucus is full of bright red blood. My nose has also been full of blood when I blow it, but I've been chalking that up to the dry air here.

The answers here and some cursory googling have me thinking I should probably check in with a doctor, which would be fine any other week but with the holiday the only place open tomorrow will be the emergency room. I can wait till Friday, right?
posted by peachfuzz at 7:00 PM on December 24, 2014

I personally would be heading to a doctor at this point. Sounds like you have bronchitis maybe?
posted by gudrun at 8:10 PM on December 24, 2014

From medical professional: if you are having trouble breathing, and/or you are running a fever (get a thermometer if you don't have one), and/or it's painful to breathe: ER sooner rather than later. Otherwise, steam, and rest and fluids. And saline nasal spray.
posted by rtha at 8:22 PM on December 24, 2014

Huh. I should clarify that I am not the medical professionals; I wwas passing along advice from a friend. Hope you feel better soon!
posted by rtha at 9:25 PM on December 24, 2014

Stay hydrated

Thin the mucus with Mucinex

Get the lotion-infused tissues to blow your nose on

Time-travel to the end of the illness by marathoning an engrossing TV series or playing an addictive video game (the type that make you lose days of time without noticing)
posted by Jacqueline at 10:04 PM on December 24, 2014

Christmas colors (red or green) in your coughing is a not-great sign. Do you have a nurse line for your health insurance? (Look on the back of your card, assuming of course that you have health insurance) If you do, call them. If not, see if you can find a 24-hour urgent care, or go to the ER; this is really something to get taken care of sooner rather than later.
posted by KathrynT at 11:10 PM on December 24, 2014

I should say -- I'm not a doctor or a nurse or any kind of health care professional. But I had my kid stop breathing in the car on our way to the hospital once when I waited too long, albeit for croup which isn't what you have, and that may make me overly jumpy. But I really do think that if you're coughing up blood, it's doctor time very soon.
posted by KathrynT at 11:11 PM on December 24, 2014

If you're still coughing up (fresh) blood in the morning I would definitely go to the ER. Feel better!
posted by at 11:15 PM on December 24, 2014

Go to the ER if you're coughing up blood.
posted by bleep at 11:20 PM on December 24, 2014

They will also help you re-hydrate with an IV if you're still that dehydrated.
posted by bleep at 11:21 PM on December 24, 2014

Response by poster: Well I did end up going to the ER when I woke up fighting for breath at four this morning. Bacterial pneumonia, with bonus bruised ribs from all the coughing. Got the right antibiotics, the right cough stuff, some heavy-duty painkillers so I can cough without wanting to die.

It absolutely wouldn't have even occurred to me to go if I hadn't asked you fine folks, and I am SO glad I did. And the responses to my actual initial question will continue to be helpful as I recover. It's a Christmas miracle! Thanks, AskMe!
posted by peachfuzz at 10:24 AM on December 25, 2014 [11 favorites]

So glad you went, and thanks for the update!
posted by rtha at 10:42 AM on December 25, 2014

Glad to hear that you got checked out and treated. Hope you're on the road to recovery. Just wanted to add regarding flavored drinks for fluids - the best things available are generally Pedialyte or Gatorade. They are better for hydration than plain water because they have a little bit of salt in them and your body will hold onto the fluids better that way, this is part of the reason why oral rehydration solution (ORS, which is made with a 'palmful of sugar and a pinch of salt') works so well. Stuff like fruit juices mainly just have a lot of sugar in them and can have some pro-diuretic or pro-diarrheal effects.
posted by treehorn+bunny at 10:05 PM on December 26, 2014

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