How to know whether you have the flu (and what to do about it)

January 09, 2018 | by Edward-Elmhurst Health
Categories: Healthy Driven Life

It's that time of year again.

The flu season typically peaks in December-February, but flu activity often begins to increase in October.

How do you know if you have the flu?

Your symptoms will seem to start suddenly and can be severe. Watch for these telltale symptoms:

  • Fever/chills
  • Cough
  • Sore throat
  • Runny/stuffy nose
  • Muscle aches, headaches
  • Fatigue
  • Vomiting and diarrhea (more common in kids than adults)

Colds don’t feel the same as the flu. The Centers for Disease Control (CDC) provides a symptom comparison chart here. Usually, colds start gradually and the symptoms are not as severe. Colds rarely cause a fever, chills or headaches.

What should you do if you suspect you have the flu?

Stay home and limit contact with others. Unless you’re in a high-risk group (young children, age 65 and older, pregnant women or people with certain medical conditions), you probably don’t need medical treatment.

Be sure to cover your mouth and nose when you cough or sneeze, and stay home until you have been fever-free for at least 24 hours. Wash your hands often to avoid spreading the disease.

If you feel very sick, call your primary care physician’s office. If you don’t have a primary care doctor, you can find one with the first available appointment by searching our Healthy Driven database of physicians, and schedule online.

When is emergency treatment needed?

There are some symptoms that warrant a trip to the emergency room, the CDC reports.

Watch for these emergency symptoms in kids:

  • Fast breathing or trouble breathing
  • Bluish skin color
  • Not drinking enough fluids
  • Not waking up or not interacting
  • Being so irritable that the child does not want to be held
  • Flu-like symptoms improve, but then return with fever and worse cough
  • Fever with a rash

In infants, look for any of the above symptoms as well as:

  • Being unable to eat
  • Has trouble breathing
  • Has no tears when crying
  • Significantly fewer wet diapers than normal

In adults, look for the following:

  • Difficulty breathing or shortness of breath
  • Pain or pressure in the chest or abdomen
  • Sudden dizziness
  • Confusion
  • Severe or persistent vomiting
  • Flu-like symptoms improve, but then return with fever and worse cough

How do you avoid catching the flu?

You can get through flu season unscathed.

  1. First step: get vaccinated. Flu shots are recommended for everyone age 6 months and older (including — and especially — children, pregnant women and people age 65 and older). The CDC recommends vaccination by the end of October, but it’s still helpful to get a shot even in January. It takes about two weeks after vaccination to develop protective antibodies.
  2. Wash your hands often with soap and running water and avoid touching your face (eyes, nose and mouth). No one will be offended if you dash off to wash your hands after being around coughing, sneezing people at the office. Teach your kids how to wash their hands and remind them to wash often at school. Hand sanitizer can work in a pinch if you can’t get to a sink.
  3. Wipe down kitchen and bathroom counters, doorknobs, and your work desk and phone, with antibacterial cleaners. Repeat.
  4. Make a full night’s sleep and healthy eating a habit. It will strengthen your immune system.

Need a flu shot? Our Walk-In Clinics have flu vaccines, as well as our Immediate Care Centers!

Find the right primary care doctor for you and your family — search our database of Healthy Driven physicians.


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