The flu is miserable. If you’ve ever had it, you know how brutal it can be: the headache, the fever, the chills.
But sometimes, it’s more than miserable—it’s a medical emergency.
Most people recover from the flu at home, but some need a doctor’s care. So how do you know whether to seek help?
First, check your symptoms against this list of flu symptoms:
- Fever (not always present)
- Sore throat
- Runny or stuffy nose
- Body aches
- Sometimes diarrhea and vomiting
Recovering at Home
If your symptoms are mild and you choose to recover at home, don’t go to work or other public places where you can pass the flu to others. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, you need to stay home at least 24 hours after you have become fever-free without the aid of medicine.
While you’re at home, make sure to rest and drink a lot of fluids. The following supplies can help you minimize the spread of flu and feel better:
- Nonprescription pain relievers, fever reducers, decongestants, anti-diarrheal medication and cough drops
- Alcohol–based hand sanitizer
- Facial tissues
- Canned or instant soups (low-sodium is better)
- Toilet paper
- Laundry detergent (you’re going to want to wash those blankets you’re using)
- Household cleaners (make sure to wipe down surfaces, including door handles)
- Soap (wash your hands a lot and encourage anyone you live with to do the same)
Seeing a Doctor
If your symptoms are moderate to severe or you’re at higher risk of developing flu-related complications, you may want to see your doctor. People at higher risk include children younger than 5 and adults 65 and older, pregnant women, residents of nursing homes, and people with chronic illnesses such as asthma, lung disease and heart disease.
Your doctor will assess your symptoms and may prescribe an . If you can’t see your doctor promptly or the office is closed, you can visit an urgent care clinic to be treated for flu.
When Flu Becomes an Emergency
Some people who get the flu get very sick, and it can sometimes be fatal. Thousands of people each year die of flu-related complications. Seek immediate emergency medical attention—call 911—if you’re experiencing any of the following symptoms:
- Difficulty breathing or shortness of breath
- Pain or pressure in the chest or stomach
- Sudden dizziness
- Severe or persistent vomiting
- Flu-like symptoms that improve but then return with fever and worse cough