An older adult experiencing flu symptoms.
Healthy Living

Who is at High Risk for Flu Complications?

Nov 4 2020

For many people, the flu is just a regular illness. Your body aches, you cough and your head hurts. After staying home and resting, you feel better a few days later.

Sadly, that’s not the case for everyone. For many others the flu can be serious. They may even end up spending time in the hospital. In some cases, it can even be deadly. Additionally, flu season is even more complicated this year as we are still in the middle of the COVID-19 pandemic.

First, let’s learn who is at the highest risk for getting flu complications.

Senior citizens

Older people, especially those over 65, are at a greater risk for experiencing complications if they get the flu. The older you get, the weaker your immune system is. That means your body has a harder time fighting off harmful germs. And many older people have health conditions like diabetes, heart disease or lung disease that can cause complications.

A high-dose flu shot is available for older adults. It can work better for them than the regular version most people get.

Children under five

On the other end of the age spectrum, babies, toddlers and children under the age of five are also at a greater risk. Children under two are at an even greater risk than those who are a little older. This is because their bodies are not able to fight off infections like an adult’s can. Their immune systems are still developing, so they’re not as strong yet.

Pregnant women

If you’re pregnant or you’ve just had a baby, you’ll want to take extra care not to get the flu. This is because your body is going through so many changes that your immune system may not be working as well as it usually does. Flu complications won’t just affect you, but they’ll also affect your unborn baby. It can cause birth defects and even send you into early labor.

People with other health conditions or weakened immune systems

If your immune system is weak, no matter your age, you’re at risk for flu complications.

Maybe you take a medicine that impacts your immunity, like chemotherapy. Or, you might have a health condition that affects your immune system. Some of the more common health conditions that can do this include:

  • Blood disorders
  • Cancer
  • Diabetes
  • Heart disease
  • Liver disease
  • Lung disease
  • Kidney disease
  • Metabolic disorders
  • Neurological (brain) conditions
  • Obesity
  • Stroke

What are some common complications?

Most people who get the flu don’t have long-lasting effects or complications. However, some may have minor ones, like an ear or sinus infection.

In other cases, the flu can turn into pneumonia. This is an infection that causes swelling in your lungs. If you have underlying health conditions, like heart disease or asthma, the flu can make those conditions worse. In severe cases, you may develop widespread infections. Your organs might stop working the way they should. You might also have an increased risk for a heart attack.

How can you prevent flu complications?

If you’re at risk, the first thing you should do is get a flu shot. Everyone over the age of 6 months should get one. Talk with your primary care provider if you have any questions.

While it definitely helps in preventing the flu, the flu shot isn’t 100% effective. Even if you get a flu shot, you’ll want to make sure you use good hygiene. Wash your hands often, especially when you’ve been out in public. Keep surfaces in your home and at work clean and disinfected, especially when you share them with other people. Don’t touch your face unless you’ve washed your hands. COVID-19 precautions such as social distancing and wearing face masks will also help prevent the flu.

It’s also important to stay healthy. Exercise, eat right and get plenty of sleep every night.

Learn more about the flu vaccine or find a Mercy Health provider near you today.

If you are experiencing flu-like symptoms, which may include fever, cough, shortness of breath, sore throat or body aches, you should call your primary care provider’s office. You may be encouraged to complete a virtual visit.

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