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Your eyes and the unseen signs of influenza

More practical ways to fight the flu

Be ready for battle this flu season with a few more helpful tips on staying virus free and, if need be, nursing yourself back to health.

Get a flu shot
Various strains of the flu virus pop up every year. That’s why it’s so important to get vaccinated this season, even if you received a flu shot last year. Due to the overwhelming H1N1 breakout last season, many pharmacies and health practitioners are stocked up with a combination seasonal and H1N1 flu shot. Check with your doctor, health insurance provider, or local pharmacist for availability.

Rest up
It’s hardly the way anyone wants to spend a few days away from work, but getting plenty of rest—and avoiding sharing the virus with your friends and co-workers—is exactly what your body needs when you’ve come down with the flu. Stay home and help your antibodies help you by limiting your daily activity, taking it easy, and getting plenty of fluids and extra sleep.

Get your soup on
It may seem like an old wives’ tale, but all that grandmotherly advice about the healing powers of soup may actually ring true. Studies suggest that the ingredients in chicken noodle soup have therapeutic qualities and anti-inflammatory properties similar to those found in modern cold medicines. Keep some homemade, hearty ingredients on-hand to help you fight the flu with the ultimate comfort food.

As flu season approaches, all are on the lookout for the telltale symptoms of the seasonal virus. Fever, respiratory discomfort, severe body aches, and nausea can all indicate the presence of the dismal disease. No one wants to get stuck with the often-serious sickness, and for those with significant health conditions, complications associated with the flu can be life threatening.

Luckily, there are many easy ways to help protect yourself this season, and most methods should sound familiar; thorough hand washing, a mix of rest and regular physical activity, and lots of vitamin C are great habits for staying healthy. Avoiding direct contact with your eyes, nose and mouth, as well as avoiding close interaction with others who may be sick, are other simple preventative measures you should always take.

Good habits and vaccination are the most surefire ways to prevent a brush with the flu. However, in the early stages of any virus, your symptoms may be less detectable. A routine eye exam is one surprising way that flu symptoms may be detected before they become severe.

“There are a number of subtle signs in the eyes that can be an early indication of a virus like the cold or flu,” explains Dr. Joel Kestenbaum, a VSP doctor with Optix Family Eyecare Center in Long Island, NY. “We look underneath the lids and sometimes see what’s called a papillary reaction—it looks like goosebumps. Redness, irritation—all of these things indicate that a patient is symptomatic.”

Besides early detection of viruses like the cold or flu, eye exams can detect signs of other health problems such as diabetes, glaucoma, or heart disease.

“Sometimes we’ll see a light gray area on the corneal tissue called arcus sinilis,” explains Dr. Kestenbaum. “While it doesn’t affect vision, it can be an early indicator of high cholesterol. Other indicators we sometimes see are tiny hemorrhages called petechial hemorrhages, which can be a sign of heart disease.”

Early detection of a variety of health ailments is just another great reason to see your eye doctor at least once a year. “I often compare regular visits to the eye doctor with regular dental appointments. You’ve only got two eyes—you have to take care of them!”

Want to hear more from Dr. Kestenbaum on the early warning signs we receive from our eyes? Catch up on his posts and get a daily peak at eyecare at the VSP Blog.