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When the Flu Becomes an Emergency


Every year, influenza season causes millions of people to fall ill across the United States. In most cases, this virus will pass without any serious complications. However, for some patients, medical treatment may be required. If you are suffering from influenza symptoms, or if you are caring for someone who has the flu, the information below will help you decide whether emergency medical treatment is necessary.

How to Recognize Influenza

Influenza can be diagnosed in your doctor's office or at the hospital. However, if you don't need medical treatment, you won't be able to get a definitive diagnosis. Nonetheless, you can usually recognize influenza or an influenza-like illness simply by paying attention to the symptoms. Some of the most common symptoms of the flu include:

  • Aching muscles
  • Chills
  • Sweating
  • A fever of more than 100.4° Fahrenheit
  • Sore throat
  • Congestion
  • Fatigue
  • Dry cough
  • Headache


Treating the Flu at Home

Most patients will be able to recover from the flu on their own by resting and treating their symptoms at home. If you have the flu, the best at-home treatment is simply to get plenty of sleep and drink fluids until the virus runs its course. You can also improve your comfort level by using cough drops, decongestants and other over-the-counter remedies. 


Signs of an Emergency 

When flu symptoms become too serious to treat at home, you need to seek medical care. Some of the signs that the flu as become an emergency in an adult include:

  • Shortness of breath or labored breathing
  • Severe vomiting that doesn't go away
  • Confusion
  • Flu symptoms that seem to get better but then suddenly worsen, usually with a higher fever
  • Pain or pressure in the abdomen or chest

When children are sick with the flu, it's usually up to adult caregivers to recognize the signs of an impending emergency. Some of the signs that a child may need emergency treatment for the flu include:

  • Becoming inconsolable
  • Inability to wake up
  • Acting confused or disoriented
  • Severe vomiting that won't go away
  • A blue or gray tint to skin
  • Labored breathing
  • Refusing to drink an adequate amount of fluids
  • Flu symptoms that seem to get better but then suddenly worsen, usually with a higher fever


Seeking Medical Treatment

Although the flu can become a medical emergency for anyone, complications are most common among children and the elderly. If your symptoms are severe but don't seem to be life-threatening, you can usually go to urgent care or the emergency room for treatment. However, if you or someone you are caring for experiences severe flu symptoms that need immediate treatment, it's best to call 911 for assistance. 

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