Flu in Older Adults: Symptoms, Treatments, and Complications

It is essential to take into account that the flu in older adults is more dangerous than in other ages. Likewise, the manifestations are different. Therefore, many times the signs of the disease are not recognized until it is late.

Influenza in older adults is more serious due to two factors: the aging of the immune system and the decrease in the physiological reserve. The latter is the possibility that the body has to work at its maximum capacity.

It is estimated that between 75 and 90% of deaths from influenza occur in this population. Experts believe that the cause of the associated mortality is not the spread of the virus, but the inflammatory response of the body.

What are the common symptoms of the flu?

It is very important to know that flu symptoms in older adults may differ from usual. Less than half of the elderly have common manifestations, such as fever, sore throat, or cough.

It has been established that the most common is that, initially, there is only fatigue and slight loss of appetite. Weakness, dizziness, mental confusion, and delirium are also experienced.

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Severe symptoms

Sometimes severe flu symptoms occur in older adults. These manifestations indicate the need to seek medical help:

  • Feeling short of breath or trouble breathing.
  • Pressure or pain in the chest and abdomen.
  • Drowsiness and difficulty waking up
  • Confusion and problems with self-care.
  • Absence of urine or anuria.
  • Disease aggravation pre-existing chronic.

The flu in older adults manifests itself with signs that are not the usual ones, such as tiredness and lack of strength.

Possible Complications of the Flu in Older Adults

The immune system's response to a virus is carried out through white blood cells. Nevertheless, they can promote aggressive inflammatory responses and damage lung tissue. The latter occurs when there is flu in older adults.

Some of the associated complications are ear or sinus infections. Other more serious are inflammation of the brain, heart or muscles. Likewise, multi-organ failure or exacerbation of previous diseases, such as asthma.

It is relatively common for the flu in older adults to cause bronchitis and pneumonia. Bronchitis is an inflammation of the lining of the bronchi and its main symptoms are the following:

  • Coughing up mucus yellow, green or gray.
  • Difficulty breathing or dyspnea.
  • Fever with fatigue and myalgia.

Pneumonia, meanwhile, is inflammation of the alveoli of one or both lungs. It causes a severe cough, shortness of breath, and chest pains. In older adults, it could cause the temperature to drop and cause confusion, nausea, and vomiting.

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How can the flu be treated in older adults?

Ideally, the flu in older adults start treatment within 48 hours of the first symptoms. This is how true clinical benefit is achieved. However, after that time, an approach is also possible and must be carried out according to the protocols.

There is currently no cure for the flu. Antiviral treatment is done with drugs that aim to reduce symptoms and prevent aggravation.

It is convenient to rest and hydrate well. With good care, the symptoms should go away completely in a week or two. If the signs are very severe it is important to consult a doctor.

Prevention and recommendations

Immunization for the flu is indicated for older adults every winter season.

The best way to prevent the flu in older adults is with the flu vaccine.. Anyone over 65 should apply it once a year. This immunization reduces the risk of contracting the pathology and its serious forms.

In addition to vaccination, other measures that can help include the following:

  • Avoid crowded places, especially if it is in a season in which there are many infections.
  • Wash your hands regularly for the whole day. Do not touch your eyes, mouth, or nose with your hands.
  • Maintain a healthy diet that strengthens the immune system and engage in regular physical activity. Also stay hydrated.
  • Disinfect surfaces in the home on a regular basis.
  • Get the pneumococcal vaccine, according to medical indication.

Flu in older adults is serious and dangerous

After age 65, it is very important to take better care of yourself and prevent the flu in every way possible. Biosecurity measures should be a daily practice, that they become almost automatic on a regular basis.

It is necessary to adopt a proactive attitude to the suspicion of influenza in older adults. It is best not to miss the first symptoms and seek medical help, even before you have flu test results. This could save the life of the patient.