Flu Season: When to See a Doctor

Boy with fluFlu season is in full swing across the US. Everyone is at risk for getting the flu, but some people have a higher risk than others. An example of this are those people who have certain medical conditions including asthma, diabetes, and cardiovascular (heart) disease, chronic lung disease (Chronic obstructive Pulmonary Disease);  pregnant women; children younger than 5 years (and especially those younger than 2); people 65 years or  older; and immunocompromised individuals.

It is important to know that you don’t need to have a chronic condition to be affected by the flu. The flu can affect anyone, at any age, with any health status. While we hope you can protect yourself from the flu, if you do get sick, it’s important to know when to stay home, when to call your doctor, and when it’s time to go to the hospital.

To start, it helps to recognize symptoms of the flu versus a simple cold. The key difference is the intensity of the symptoms that build in a very short timeframe. While a cold is steady with small fluctuations, the flu has a fast onset of aggressive symptoms. When you have the flu, there is a significant change from your normal state of being.

Consider Staying Home

Use your common sense  when making this decision. If you have flu-like symptoms, there is a good chance you will feel better if you rest up and drink plenty of fluids (but remember, if you are in a high risk category, be mindful that you should contact your doctor). The CDC recommends you stay home until you’ve been free of fever for 24 hours. Flu season is not the time to be a hero and try to make it into the office or to your kid’s game. When you cough and sneeze in public places, you have particle droplets that travel through air that land on people around you, spreading germs and sickness. If you must be in a public place, cover your nose and mouth with a tissue when you cough or sneeze and limit contact with those around you.

Call your doctor

Though the flu will work its way out of your system in time, it’s important to pay close attention to your body. If symptoms are moving quickly and worsening, rather than improving, calling your doctor is a good idea to touch base about what you’re experiencing. You may also want to reach out to your doctor in an anticipatory fashion, if you have a chronic health condition – particularly asthma, diabetes and chronic heart disease, other risk factors. Your medical condition may make you more susceptible to complications from the flu and your doctor may prescribe therapy (possibly an antiviral or other medication to help your body fight back.

If your symptoms are worsening and you’re unable to see your primary doctor, consider going to a local urgent care center.

Go to the hospital

If your symptoms become severe, seek immediate emergency medical attention, especially if you fall into one of the high-risk categories mentioned above. You know your body best and will likely recognize this threshold on your own.  Examples of concerning signs would be:

  • Difficulty breathing (shortness of breath)
  • Persistent fever
  • Symptoms of severe cold (runny nose, sore throat)
  • Cough that produces blood or thick mucus
  • Chest pain/discomfort
  • Moderate to severe body aches and pains
  • Nausea /vomiting
  • Sudden dizziness
  • Feeling bad overall and a sense that your condition is quickly worsening

Dr. Jann Caison-Sorey, is a pediatrician and the senior medical director at Blue Cross Blue Shield of Michigan.

Photo Credit: Kim Keegan

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