When fall arrives, the weather begins to change and it also brings the flu season.

The flu can hit anyone and knock them down, but it's especially dangerous for people over 65 years old. It is particularly dangerous because the viral infection can drain your health, making it easy for life-threatening complications such as bacterial pneumonia to take hold. It can also worsen the symptoms of conditions like asthma, heart disease, and chronic obstructive pulmonary disease.

The flu is preventable with vaccines and other preventative measures. Let’s discuss what the flu is, what it looks like, how it spreads, and how seniors can protect themselves from the virus.

WHAT ARE THE SYMPTOMS?

No matter the type of influenza virus you contract, the symptoms are pretty similar—though they vary in severity. Symptoms include:

- Sore throat
- Constant cough
- Runny nose
- Muscles cramps and aches
- Fever of 101 degrees or more in a senior
- Headaches
- Vomiting or diarrhea
- Chills

While the flu has similar symptoms as a the common cold—sore throat, cough, and a runny nose—the flu can result in far more devastating consequences.

Any severe symptoms such as long-lasting headaches, vomiting, or lasting longer than two to three days should be treated immediately, as you may have the flu.

WHAT ARE SOME COMPLICATIONS FROM THE FLU?

With proper medical treatment and antibiotics, the flu lasts in your system for about two weeks. Seniors are at a greater risk of suffering from complications. The flu can particularly impact seniors who have:

- Asthma
- Chronic lunch disease
- Diabetes
- Kidney problems
- Heart issues
- Illnesses that involve taking steroids or chemotherapy that weaken the system
- Obesity issues
- Problems with the liver

All of these medical issues can leave seniors open to the more severe effects of the flu—long hospitalizations and death—because they assist in weakening your immune system. Some other extended issues that may affect seniors who have the flu include:

- Bronchitis : an inflammation of the lungs that is caused by having a respiratory issue like the flu. Its main symptom is a cough and mucus. Like influenza, some form of bronchitis can work through the system in two to three weeks, but there are some forms (chronic bronchitis) that keep coming back, even when the flu has long passed through your system.

- Pneumonia : a bacterial respiratory illness with chest pain, coughs, shaking and sweating, and body temperatures lower than normal. Pneumonia is the fourth leading killer among seniors, who may be able to prevent the disease post-influenza with a pneumonia vaccine.

- Heart failure : Heart issues can stem from your body becoming more vulnerable to bacteria and other harmful substances affecting your heart. There are also medications that help get rid of the flu that can potentially cause blood clots, which can lead to further heart issues.

- Ear and sinus infections : After having the flu, the body is susceptible to infections from various bacteria in various parts of the body, including your sinuses and ears. If you have the flu and start experiencing ear pain that lasts longer than a day or two or sinus issues (more than just sneezing) that last longer than two or three days, you should seek additional professional help.

- Dehydration : Dehydration is a severe issue among seniors, especially when ill. Dehydration can happen quickly because seniors have less water in their bodies than when they were younger. Drinking continually while sick is important in staying hydrated. Many symptoms of the flu, like sweating, a runny, nose, and vomiting, cause water to drain out of your body and can cause you to quickly become dehydrated. Dehydration can result in seizures, kidney problems, and other potentially fatal medical issues.

Please keep in mind that the flu is serious. Any questions about the flu or how to prevent it should be addressed with your primary care physician.

Next week we will look into preventing and treating the flu in senior adults.