According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), millions of Americans are stricken with seasonal influenza, better known as the flu, each year, and thousands of those affected die from complications of the illness. With alarming statistics like that in mind, your first instinct may be to head straight to your primary care physician's office, urgent care clinic, or hospital emergency room when those initial aches and chills set in. Should you seek medical care if you contract the flu?
The annual flu season begins during the latter part of November and runs its course through March. A fever is a common symptom of the flu, but not everyone who has the flu will have a fever. Other signs of the flu include the following:
- Sore throat
- Body aches
- Nasal congestion or a runny nose
If you contract the flu virus, you are going to feel miserable and wonder what you should be doing to get through it. According to the CDC, most cases can and should be treated at home to avoid contact with other individuals and spreading the contagious illness.
The flu is a viral illness, which means that it will not respond to antibiotic treatment. While a doctor can prescribe one of the antiviral drugs that are available to combat the flu, the illness still needs to run its course. Antiviral drugs can lessen the severity and duration of the flu, but antiviral treatment must begin within 48 hours from the onset of your symptoms.
If you are essentially healthy and are not at a high risk for complications from the flu, you can treat your condition at home without the intervention of a health care professional. Settle in under the blankets in bed and sleep as much as you can. Sleeping enables the body to heal, and you will not feel like doing anything else anyway. Keep plenty of tissues on hand, using them to cover your nose and mouth when you sneeze or cough. You also need to drink plenty of liquids to prevent dehydration, and a cup of steaming broth will help to chase away your chills. You may also pursue symptomatic treatment with an over-the-counter flu remedy that contains the active ingredients to reduce aches and fever, quell coughs, and combat congestion. If you have a chronic health condition, such as hypertension, heart disease, or diabetes, be sure to consult with your health care provider before taking such flu remedies.
Once your symptoms have improved, do not return to work or school until you have been free of a fever for 24 hours without the aid of a fever-reducing drug.
High Risk for Complications
The majority of people who contract the flu will recover with self-treatment within two weeks. Some individuals, however, have an elevated risk for developing complications from the flu, which include bronchitis and pneumonia. According to the CDC, the following groups are at risk for these complications:
- Children less than five years of age
- Adults aged 65 years and older
- Pregnant women
- Residents in nursing care facilities
- American Indians
- Alaskan Natives
- People with asthma or chronic obstructive pulmonary disease
- People with heart disease
- People with compromised immune systems, such as those with cancer, HIV, or AIDS
- People with kidney, liver, or endocrine disorders, including diabetes
If you belong to any of these groups, you should contact your health care provider as soon as you begin to experience any flu symptoms. A physician may recommend that you visit a clinic or hospital to pursue an evaluation and more aggressive treatment to combat the onset of complications.
As bad as the flu makes you feel, it can become worse. You need to be alert to the following warning signs:
- Dizziness or confusion
- Pain or pressure in your chest
- Difficulty breathing
- Excessive vomiting
Additionally, if your flu symptoms return with a vengeance after a period of improvement, further trouble could be brewing. If you observe any of these signs, then you need to get to an urgent care center or hospital emergency room as soon as possible.
The best way to avoid the flu misery and the risk for its complications is to prevent the illness altogether. No matter how hectic your life schedule gets, make the time to get yourself vaccinated against the flu each year. The best time to receive the flu vaccine is during early autumn, before the flu season kicks in. However, it is never too late. If you have been fortunate enough to avoid contracting the flu so far this season, keep that lucky streak going by getting a flu vaccine as soon as possible.
For more information, contact local professionals like Alaska Urgent Care LLC.