Flu season will be here before we know it, prompting medical professionals everywhere to urge their patients to get their influenza vaccinations as soon as possible. But providing that you don’t get your flu shot, it’s possible that you could contract this virus at some point during the next few months. If and when you do, it’s essential that you be familiar with the possible symptoms you might experience — including the most serious ones that warrant a trip to your doctor’s office, urgent care center, or emergency room.

When Should You See a Medical Professional About the Flu?

  • When you’re pretty sure you have it: If you’ve got all or most of the most common influenza symptoms (e.g., fever, cough, sore throat, head and body aches, stuffy/runny nose, fatigue) but they’re relatively mild, you may be fine caring for yourself at home. However, it might still be a good idea to visit your primary care physician or go to an urgent care center. American urgent care centers reported an average of over 15,000 patient care visits during 2016 but still maintained wait times of 30 minutes or less, so it won’t take long. The staff at urgent care centers will be able to confirm your diagnosis and may possibly be able to give you a prescription for an anti-viral (like Tamiflu) to reduce the severity of your symptoms and the length of your illness. Tamiflu isn’t usually an option if you wait too long, so it’s important to recognize the symptoms of the flu early and take action.
  • When you’re experiencing extreme symptoms: We’ve outlined some of the most common flu symptoms above, but those aren’t the worst ones you might experience with influenza. The flu virus can produce more serious complications in some patients; it’s essential to watch for signs of these complications and see a medical professional right away if you experience them. Shortness of breath, chest or abdominal pressure, frequent vomiting, high fevers (above 103 degrees Fahrenheit), lightheadedness, confusion, earaches, or productive coughs with colorful mucus are not run-of-the-mill flu symptoms. They can often indicate a secondary infection or severe complication. The same can be said for when a child with the flu experiences a rash or has a blue tint to their skin. These should be treated as urgent medical situations that may warrant a trip to the hospital.
  • When you have a higher risk for complications: When medical professionals urge you to get your flu shot every year, they don’t want you to protect only yourself or your immediate family. They also want to encourage you to protect everyone with whom you come into contact — especially those who are at higher risk of complications or who cannot get the flu vaccination. People with chronic conditions or weakened immune systems have a higher risk of flu complications, as do those who are over the age of 50, those who are living in senior homes, those who are under the age of two, or those who are currently pregnant. It’s vital for people who fall under these categories to seek out medical attention immediately — even if the symptoms don’t seem so bad at first.
  • When your symptoms have dissipated but then return: With the flu, it’s not normal to finally feel better only to come down with even worse symptoms. This experience can be common among children, but it can happen to just about anyone. Typically, this is indicative of a secondary infection (such as pneumonia) or other complications. To avoid the possibility of needing attention from emergency medical professionals, it’s a smart idea to seek out care early on and listen to your body. Be patient and treat your symptoms as directed. Otherwise, you could put your health at risk.

If possible, you should get your flu shot this season. But whether you are immunized or not, you should know how to recognize the signs of the flu and know when it’s time to seek out treatment from a doctor.

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