Public Health

When is the Flu an Emergency?

A mother taking her sick child's temperature

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Flu season is just around the corner, and that means getting a flu shot should be at the top of your to-do list.

But have you ever wondered whether a nasty bout of the flu needs a trip to the emergency room? If you have, you’re not alone. Every flu season, thousands of people flood ERs seeking treatment for their flu symptoms. But most of the time, an ER visit isn’t necessary.

We’re here to help break it down for you. From symptoms and when to visit the doctor to when you should go to the ER for the flu, we’ve got you covered.

Symptoms of the Flu

In general, you can assume you have influenza — or the flu —and not a garden-variety cold if your symptoms are severe and accompanied by a fever.

Flu symptoms may include:

  • Chills
  • Cough
  • Fatigue
  • Headache
  • Muscle pain/body aches
  • Sore throat

Flu symptoms can come on suddenly. Treating them with over-the-counter medications, getting plenty of rest and drinking lots of fluids provide relief for most people with the flu.

When to Go to the Doctor for Flu

Even if you’re taking around-the-clock over-the-counter medicines, getting plenty of rest and hydrating, you may still feel awful with the flu — so awful you can’t get out of bed for a day or two. While that may concern you, it’s still best to call your doctor before heading to the emergency room for flu.

Flu symptoms typically last for up to a week. But if they get better for a day or two and return with a fever, you should call your doctor. If you have young children or older family members with compromised immune systems — including those with chronic health conditions — you should also ask your doctor for advice. These groups are more likely to suffer complications from the flu, so getting treatment early can help avoid more serious illness.

When to Go to the ER for Flu

Still, there are times when you should go to the hospital for the flu, such as when you or a loved one experiences severe dehydration, which can show up as:

  • Confusion
  • Dark-colored urine
  • Extreme thirst
  • Severe or consistent vomiting

Other signs of a flu-related emergency include severe chest or abdominal pain, difficulty breathing or shortness of breath.

Warning signs are slightly different for children and infants, too. If you have a child with any of the following symptoms, you should take them to the ER with the flu:

  • A bluish color to the skin
  • A severe headache
  • A stiff neck
  • An inability to take in fluids
  • Trouble urinating

Also, if you have an infant, watch out for the following red flags:

  • A fever over 100.3 (in a baby under 3 months old)
  • An absence of tears while crying
  • An inability to eat
  • Fewer wet diapers than normal

Our Emergency Options

At AdventHealth, we offer on-demand care wherever you are. From comprehensive ERs to pediatric urgent care centers, you can find responsive and immediate emergency medical treatment whenever you need it.

Find an AdventHealth location that’s convenient for you.

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