Did you know that even though you’re more likely to get sick from influenza (flu) during the fall and winter months, you can get the flu at any time of year? The CDC recommends everyone 6 months and older should get a flu vaccine every year, as it’s the best protection available against the flu. There are lots of additional common-sense preventive measures you can take to reduce the chances of spreading the flu. Still, anywhere from 5 to 20 percent of people in the U.S. will get sick with the flu each year. So, if you do get sick, how do you manage care at home and when is it time for a trip to urgent care?
How to Recognize the Symptoms of the Flu
First things first: learn how to recognize the flu. Easy, right? Maybe not. The flu can sometimes be hard to recognize because symptoms can vary from person to person. For some people, the flu may be mild and for others it can be severe, even leading to very serious complications or death. Many flu symptoms can be similar to the common cold and some of the most common symptoms, such as fever, aren’t experienced by everyone.
Here are some of the top symptoms for the flu:
- Fever and/or chills
- Body aches
- Sore throat
- Runny nose
Vomiting and diarrhea are symptoms of the flu, although they are more common in children than in adults.
Again, everyone is different, but there are some general tips that can help you figure out if you have the flu and not the common cold:
- If your illness comes on suddenly, it might be the flu. The flu tends to come on very quickly, while a cold tends to develop more gradually.
- If a fever is present, it’s more likely to be the flu than a cold. In adults, a fever is rare with the common cold (although children often develop a fever with a cold).
- Body aches, headache, and chills are more commonly experienced with the flu than with a cold and are usually more severe. Likewise, weakness and fatigue are often much more pronounced in the flu than in a cold.
- Although sneezing, stuffy nose, and sore throat are symptoms that can occur both with the flu and with a cold, it’s actually less common to have these symptoms with the flu, while they are very common in a cold.
- A cough or the feeling of chest congestion can occur both with a cold or with the flu but can be more severe with the flu.
Complications from the Flu
The flu usually lasts a few days up to a few weeks, but sometimes complications can arise. Some people are considered a higher risk for developing complications from the flu, including people who are:
- Older than 65
- Younger than 5 (especially those younger than 2)
Those who are high risk for flu complications may also include some people with chronic medical conditions, including those with:
- Heart disease
- Chronic lung disease
- Liver or kidney disorders
- Some neurologic conditions
- A BMI (Body Mass Index) of over 40
- Blood disorders
- A weakened immune system
Even though some people are more at risk for complications than others, anyone can get sick with the flu, and anyone can develop complications from the flu.
Mild complications may include developing an ear infection or sinus infection. One of the most common serious complications is pneumonia, which can result in hospitalization or even death. Other serious complications can be caused by inflammation, which can affect the muscles, heart, brain, kidneys, or other organs. The flu virus also can lead to a life-threatening condition called sepsis or can make chronic health conditions worse.
Managing the Flu at Home
The key to managing the flu at home is staying hydrated and getting plenty of rest. There are no over-the-counter (OTC) drugs that can heal the flu, but you can make yourself more comfortable with OTC pain relievers for fever, body aches, and headache. You can also use OTC decongestants, nasal sprays, or cough drops to help control symptoms.
When to go to Urgent Care for the Flu
It can be a good idea to come to urgent care as soon as you experience flu symptoms, especially if you are a person at high risk for complications from the flu. We’re able to provide testing, antiviral medications, and other treatments as needed. Receiving antiviral treatment as soon as possible, ideally within 2 days after symptoms start, can help resolve the flu faster and potentially prevent serious complications.
Because flu symptoms can come on so suddenly, many people choose to come to urgent care because they can’t get into their regular physician right away. Others, who don’t have an established primary care physician (PCP), often don’t want to go through the hassle of researching PCPs, scheduling, and establishing care with a new PCP while battling the flu.
Urgent care is a popular care choice for many people with the flu because it’s a timely, efficient option that can offer effective treatment. Most people who get the flu do not need to be hospitalized. Check out this list of emergency warning signs of flu. If you have these warning signs, you may want to choose to seek emergency care at an ER. For people who aren’t high risk for flu complications and aren’t experiencing severe, life-threatening problems from the flu, urgent care can be the perfect choice.