What To Do When You Have the Flu

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South Shore Health

Flu season is here in full force. Nationwide—and locally—hospital emergency rooms are inundated with patients worried about their illness and seeking relief.

If you're feeling the effects, should you head to the emergency room?

Here are some important questions to ask yourself before making the trip to your hospital.

First of all, how do I know it's the flu?

Flu symptoms include: sudden onset of fever, cough, sore throat runny or stuffy nose, body aches, headache, chills, and fatigue.

That's what I've got. What should I do?

Most people with the flu have mild illness and do not need medical care or antiviral drugs. Staying home to rest and avoiding contact with other people is best.

If, however, you have symptoms of flu and are in a high risk group (infants, young children, people 65 and older, pregnant women and people with certain medical conditions, such as diabetes, heart disease and chronic lung disease), contact your primary care provider. The CDC recommends that people at high risk for complications should get antiviral treatment as early as possible. These medications can help shorten the severity and duration of the illness.

Should I go to the emergency room?

According to Todd Ellerin MD, Director of Infectious Diseases at South Shore Health, the emergency room should be used for people who are very sick. You should not go to the emergency room if you are only mildly ill. If you develop symptoms of the flu and are concerned, contact you primary care provider for advice.

What are the warning signs that the flu is serious enough to visit the ER?

Seek medical help right away for an infant who has any of these signs:

  • Being unable to drink or keep hydrated
  • Has trouble breathing
  • Has no tears when crying
  • Significantly fewer wet diapers than normal

In children, the following signs should dictate a trip to the Emergency Room:

  • 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
  • Fever with a rash


In adults, the following are warning signs to head to your local Emergency Room:

  • Difficulty breathing or shortness of breath
  • Pain or pressure in the chest or abdomen
  • Sudden dizziness with near fainting
  • Confusion
  • Severe or persistent vomiting

It is important to contact your primary care povider if your flu-like symptoms improve but then return with fever and worse cough.

For many people, the flu is a miserable experience. But for most low-risk populations, it will resolve itself with rest. If you're concerned about your illness, call your primary care doctor for advice on whether you need additional care.