As the weather warms, festival season is upon us. If you've attended an outdoor festival, you know that besides being surrounded by music and friends, you may encounter dirt, pollen and even secondhand smoke. If you're one of the unlucky folks to catch a show after a rainy day, you can add mud, mold, grass, weeds and other allergens to the mix. Unfortunately, this combination of elements makes festivals breeding grounds for coughs, sneezes and wheezes. With poor access to handwashing stations, challenging weather and having too much fun to hydrate, this is the perfect storm for a virus.

What is Festival Flu?

The terms "Festival Flu” or “Coachella Cough” are used as an overarching slang term for various illnesses people can pick up at music and film festivals. These include colds, flus and more serious infections. As such, the most common symptoms of festival flu include coughing, sore throat, sneezing, runny nose, watery eyes, fever and body aches. "It's usually not a specific illness but a combination of lack of sleep, lack of nutrition screaming, shouting and dehydration," said Cedric "Jamie" Rutland, M.D., a pulmonary and critical care medicine physician and Lung Association spokesperson.

Can You Prevent Festival Flu?

There are many things you can do to reduce your risk of developing Festival Flu. 

  • Wash your hands. This may be difficult at a big festival, so consider bringing along hand sanitizer with at least 60% alcohol.
  • Hydrate. This is of utmost importance while at a festival. Staying hydrating will keep the lining of your nose and throat from drying out so that mucus remains moist and easy to clear from the nose. Avoiding excessive caffeine and alcohol is also a good idea because they lead to dehydration.
  • Don’t smoke and stay away from others who are smoking. Inhaling smoke—even secondhand—can irritate your throat and cause a cough.
  • Strengthen your immune system. One way is to begin your allergy medication before allergy season. This will lessen the likelihood of succumbing to your allergy symptoms while out at a festival and keep you healthy. Another is to take Vitamin C before, during and after the festival.
  • Wear a mask and social your distance when possible. Similar to how we approached stopping the spread of COVID-19, masking and social distancing are good ways to prevent picking up a respiratory infection. Unfortunately, festivals tend to be packed and social distancing can be difficult so, if you are sick, you should stay home.
  • Maintain a healthy diet. Dr. Rutland suggests eating fresh fruits and drinking smoothies to ensure proper nutrition. Poor nutrition can lower your immunity.

How Do You Treat Festival Flu?

Though there is no one treatment for festival flu, drinking plenty of fluids, getting lots of rest and taking over-the-counter medications to relieve symptoms is a good place to start. If symptoms worsen or last longer than a week, you may need to consult your healthcare provider.

Attending a festival can be the highlight of the summer. Don’t dampen the rest of your summer with a cold or flu. Stay healthy and safe so that you can breathe well and sing at the top of your lungs.

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