The flu is a miserable experience. The coughing, sneezing, body aches and pains make you wish you could sleep it off but also make it difficult to do so. While most people recover from the flu on their own within a week or two, 200,000 people per year in the United States are hospitalized for the flu.
Does that mean you should go to the doctor if you have the flu? Let’s discuss the flu so that you can make the best decision for you and your family.
What causes the flu?
The flu is caused by various strains of the influenza virus. Each year, new viruses develop and cause slightly different versions of the illness. This makes it difficult to prevent and treat, because medical professionals have to predict what kinds of strains they will be dealing with before flu season actually hits. Antibiotics only work for bacterial infections and are ineffective against the flu.
Different strains of the flu can cause slightly different symptoms, but typical flu symptoms may include:
- Body aches
- Sore throat
- Runny or stuffy nose
- Vomiting and diarrhea (usually only in children)
Should you go to the doctor for the flu?
The recommendation for most people is to stay at home to recover to avoid spreading the flu to others. Antiviral treatments like Tamiflu only relieve your symptoms an average of one day sooner than recovering on your own, and people who are otherwise healthy typically recover from the flu without any problems.
With that being said, there are groups of people who have a higher risk of complications and should go to the doctor for the flu.
Who’s the most at risk?
At-risk groups of people who should go to the doctor for the flu include:
- Babies and children under 5 years old
- People 65 and older
- Pregnant women
- People in long-term care facilities
- People with weakened immune systems or chronic diseases
Serious flu complications
Although most people recover from the flu without any serious problems, some people can suffer from complications such as:
- Pneumonia, a potentially life-threatening lung infection
- Muscle inflammation
- Central nervous system disorders
- Heart problems
- Worsening of chronic health problems
When to call the doctor
If you experience any of the following symptoms while you have the flu, you should contact your doctor:
- Coughing up blood
- Croup (a cough that sounds like a bark)
- Difficulty breathing
- Pain or pressure in the chest
- Lips or nails with a bluish tint
- Vomiting that is severe or won’t stop
- High fever
- Cough or fever that is severe or won’t clear up
Treatments for the flu include:
- Drinking plenty of fluids
- Over the counter pain relievers like acetaminophen (Tylenol) or ibuprofen (Advil)
- Over the counter decongestants and antihistamines
- Antivirals like Tamiflu, which can be taken in the first 48 hours of symptoms starting to prevent the flu from worsening
Think you may be experiencing flu symptoms? Book an appointment with a PlushCare physician and get a prescription today.