What to do (and not to do) when you have the flu

Cold & Flu

by Baylor Scott & White Health

Sep 30, 2017

It’s that time of year again. The weather cools (in theory), the smell of pumpkin spice latte is in the air and the many strands of influenza stretch their legs and begin infecting my sweet, unsuspecting patients.

There’s a lot of information out there on how to avoid the flu, but I am here to tell you what to do — if despite your best efforts (including vaccination, which both I and scientific research highly recommend!) — you still come down with a case of “the flu.”

First of all, let’s review what the flu feels like. (Remember, the flu can affect people in many different ways, so you may not have all of these symptoms.)

• Fever
• Cough
• Body aches
• Headaches
• Chills
• Fatigue
• Nausea/vomiting/diarrhea
• “Overall awfulness” (as stated by one of my more eloquent patients)

Now, before we move forward, one big thing to remember is that the flu is a virus. I stress this because viruses cannot be treated with antibiotics. Antibiotics are medications that can only treat bacteria and are completely useless against the flu, and in fact, can leave you feeling sicker if used inappropriately.

What to do when you have the flu

So that’s the bad news about the flu; there are very few medications that can be used to treat it. However, the good news about the flu is that most people, and I mean the vast majority of people, can fight it off with rest (and isolation — remember, you are contagious), relaxation, fluids, healthy food, symptomatic treatment and time.

However, if you are someone in the “high risk” group and think you may have the flu, you need to see your doctor right away. “High risk” means you have a more likely chance to have a severe — and even at times deadly — case of the flu and need immediate treatment with an antiviral medication. This includes young children, people 65 years and older, pregnant women, people with suppressed immune systems and people with certain other medical issues.

If you think you are one of these people or are unsure if your medical problems put you at high risk, I urge you to see your doctor as soon as your symptoms begin. Antiviral medications must be started as quickly as possible in order to be effective.

Please remember, if you have the flu — especially if you have a fever — you are contagious. Someone gave this unwanted gift to you, but please try to break the chain! Stay home and away from others until you feel better and have been without fever for at least 24 hours.

Emergency flu signs

Unless symptoms become severe, you do not need to go to the emergency room for the flu. However, in rare cases, emergency care may be necessary.

Symptoms of severe flu may include:

• Trouble breathing/shortness of breath
• Lethargy/confusion
• Inability to hold down water
• High fever with rash
• Intractable headache

If you have any of these symptoms, please seek immediate care.

Stay well, my friends!

Learn more about the seasonal flu, or find a physician near you.

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