Treating the flu at Home vs. the Emergency Room

Sneezing sick woman with flu

The influenza virus is very common and can spread year-round, with the peak flu season from December to February. An annual flu shot is the most effective way to prevent the flu or get better faster. If you do get sick, here’s how to go about treating the flu at home and when to visit the emergency room.

Prevent the Flu

The flu is a virus that spreads by droplets in the air when infected people cough, sneeze, talk or breathe. You can also contract the flu by touching an infected surface and then touching your eyes, nose or mouth. You can reduce your risk of developing the flu by getting your annual flu vaccine, washing your hands regularly and staying away from people you know are infected. Try also to avoid touching your face.

Signs and Symptoms of the Flu

Symptoms typically come on suddenly, but you can be sick for up to five to seven days before you even know you have the flu, according to the American Lung Association. Common signs and symptoms include:

  • Dry cough
  • Chills
  • Congestion
  • Fatigue
  • Fever
  • Headache
  • Joint pain
  • Muscle aches
  • Sore throat

Because flu symptoms can mirror COVID-19 symptoms, the only sure way to know if you have the flu is to get tested.

Treating the Flu at Home

You can fix the flu at home by:

  • Avoiding alcohol and caffeine to prevent dehydration
  • Drinking plenty of fluids, such as water or other clear liquids
  • Resting in a designated sick room to stop the spread of flu germs at home
  • Running a humidifier to help with your cough and runny nose
  • Treating your fever and cough symptoms with over-the-counter medications
  • Using your own drinking glasses to avoid contaminating your family or friends

If you have more than one bathroom, consider designating one as the sick bathroom to reduce the possibility of getting your family or roommates sick. Sometimes, a wet washcloth or ice can help you feel better when you have a fever.

When to Go to the ER

Severe cases of the flu can be life-threatening and may need medical attention. Here’s how to tell if you should go to the ER when you have the flu:

  • Chest or stomach pain
  • Confusion
  • Difficulty breathing
  • Dizziness
  • Severe vomiting

If you’re taking care of your child, take them to the ER if they are having trouble breathing, if their skin is bluish in color, if they are not drinking enough fluids, if they are not responsive or if they have a fever with a rash.

For babies, the signs and symptoms you should watch out for are difficulty breathing, being unable to eat and crying without tears. If your baby also has fewer wet diapers than normal, this could be a sign of dehydration and is an emergency.

If you have a higher risk for complications from the flu, you may want to seek medical attention. People at a higher risk are adults 65 and older, pregnant women, children under 5 and people with chronic health conditions.

If you can’t treat your flu symptoms at home, trust the best to feel your best. The River’s Edge Hospital & Clinic ER is open 24/7.

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