Most people who come down with the flu don’t need to make a trip to their doctor. If your symptoms are mild, it’s best to simply stay home, rest, and avoid contact with other people as much as possible.
But if you’re very sick or worried about your illness, you should contact your doctor to find out next steps. It’s possible that you could be more vulnerable to complications related to the flu. In this case, you should see a doctor at the onset of your symptoms.
Here are some questions you can ask your doctor once you’ve started to have flu symptoms.
Do I need medical care?
If you have typical flu symptoms, like a fever, cough, stuffy nose, and sore throat, but they aren’t particularly severe, you probably don’t need to see a doctor.
But if you’re concerned about your symptoms or have questions, call your doctor’s office to find out if you should go in for an evaluation.
Am I at a higher risk of developing a flu complication?
Some groups of people are at a higher risk of experiencing complications of the flu. This includes older adults, young children, infants, pregnant women, and people with chronic illnesses. People over the age of 65 are at the greatest risk of complications and death from the flu.
Ask your doctor if you may be at a higher risk of experiencing flu complications and what extra precautions you should take.
Do I need a flu diagnostic test?
In some cases, testing is considered unnecessary. But there are a few different types of flu tests available to detect the influenza viruses. The most common tests are called rapid influenza diagnostic tests.
Usually, the flu is diagnosed by evaluating your symptoms, especially during periods of peak flu activity in your community. But knowing for sure if your symptoms are caused by the flu can be beneficial if you’re at a higher risk of developing flu-related complications.
These tests are also useful to determine if an outbreak of respiratory illness is caused by the influenza virus, especially in nursing homes, hospitals, cruise ships, and schools. Positive results can assist in carrying out infection prevention and control measures.
A doctor may order also order a flu test to confirm the presence of influenza in your area if the virus hasn’t yet been documented in your community.
Should I take an antiviral?
If you’re at a higher risk of developing flu complications, your doctor can prescribe an antiviral medication to lower your risk. These drugs work by preventing the virus from growing and replicating.
For maximum effectiveness, you should start taking an antiviral drug within 48 hours of the onset of symptoms. For this reason, don’t delay in asking your doctor about prescription antivirals.
Which over-the-counter medications should I take?
The best treatment for the flu is lots of rest and plenty of fluids. Over-the-counter medications can help make your symptoms more tolerable.
Your doctor may recommend that you take pain relievers such as acetaminophen (Tylenol) or ibuprofen (Advil) to bring down your fever. Ask your doctor about other options, like decongestants and cough suppressants, and best practices for taking them.
If your child or teen is sick with the flu, ask your doctor which medications are best for children.
What symptoms are considered an emergency?
For some people, the flu can cause more serious symptoms. Ask your doctor which symptoms could indicate that you’ve come down with a secondary infection or complication like pneumonia.
Certain symptoms, like difficulty breathing, seizures, or chest pain, mean that you need to go to the emergency room immediately.
What should I do if I have a young child at home?
If you’re sick and have children at home, you should avoid spreading your infection to your family. The flu is highly contagious even before you started having symptoms, so it’s not always possible to contain it.
Your doctor can give you some tips on how to prevent young children from coming down with the flu. They can also tell you what to do if your children end up getting sick. Ask your doctor if an antiviral medication would be appropriate for you or your children to help ward off infection.
Are there any vitamins or herbal remedies you recommend?
Most herbal remedies and vitamin supplements haven’t been thoroughly tested for safety and efficacy as flu treatments, but some people swear by them. The FDA doesn’t regulate the quality, packaging, and safety of supplements, so ask your doctor for specific recommendations.
When will I completely recover?
Recovery from the flu varies from person to person, but most people start feeling better within a week. You might have a lingering cough and fatigue for another week or two after that. In addition, a flu infection can make preexisting conditions temporarily worse.
Ask your doctor when you should expect to fully recover. Your doctor might want you to schedule another appointment if your cough or other symptoms haven’t gone away after a certain length of time.
When can I get back to the gym?
The flu can really take a toll on your energy and strength. You should wait until your fever is gone and your energy, immune system, and muscle strength return before you resume your workouts. Realistically, this could mean waiting a couple weeks.
If you’re just too anxious to get back to the gym, your doctor can give you more information about what type of physical activity is fine for your body. If you jump back into your exercise routine too soon, you may be doing more harm than good.
When can I go back to school or work?
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) recommends that you stay home from work, school, and social gatherings for at least 24 hours after your fever is gone (without use of a fever-reducing medication).
If you’re pregnant or in another high-risk category, your doctor may recommend that you stay home longer.