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What to Do If You Think It’s the Flu

January 01, 2020

You’re sailing through the week’s to-do list when all of a sudden you feel achy all over and extremely tired. Those are tell-tale signs of the flu. So what’s next?

Whether you got your flu shot this year or not, you may still find yourself dealing with the flu. But acting fast once your symptoms begin can help make the experience less uncomfortable.

What should you do if you think you have the flu? Read on as F. Gregory Cox, MD, and Joshua Whitledge, DO, physicians with West Tennessee Healthcare Volunteer Martin, offer some perspective.

Why You May Still Get the Flu After the Flu Shot
We mentioned above that you may still end up with the flu even if you got an annual flu shot this year. There are a couple reasons for that.

The first is that you can get the flu during the two-week period immediately following the flu shot. That’s because it takes the body up to two weeks to build up antibodies against the flu after receiving the vaccine. During that time period, you aren’t fully protected against the flu.

The second reason is that the flu shot—your absolute best defense against the flu—isn’t foolproof. Each year, it’s reformulated to protect against up to four strains of the flu thought to be most common during that flu season. But because that’s based on research and conjecture, sometimes other flu strains end up becoming prevalent.

The good news is: If you get the flu shot and then get the flu, the length of your illness will likely be shorter and your illness will likely be less severe. 

When It Might Be the Flu…
The fall and winter bring a lot of illnesses that are very similar to each other, symptom-wise. That can make it difficult sometimes to tell whether you’re experiencing a specific illness like the flu.

The flu, also called influenza, often presents with symptoms that are similar in nature to the common cold. That’s because both are viral illnesses that affect the respiratory system.

However, the flu typically causes more severe symptoms that may linger for longer—and you are also more likely to experience body aches, fever, and extreme fatigue.

Symptoms of the flu include:

  • A dry cough
  • A fever higher than 100.4° F
  • Chills and sweats
  • Extreme fatigue or weakness
  • Headache
  • Muscle aches
  • Nasal congestion
  • Sore throat

It is important to note that if your symptoms don’t seem severe or aren’t impeding your daily life, you may not need medical attention. Mild cases of the flu will disappear within a few days on their own.

But if you begin experiencing these symptoms and they’re causing you to be “down and out,” your next step is most important. Seek medical attention so that your symptoms can be evaluated and a flu test can be administered. Prompt treatment is important to begin alleviating symptoms.

How the Flu Is Treated
Seeking medical attention for flu-like symptoms will allow you to get an accurate diagnosis for your illness. If you have the flu, your doctor will not prescribe an antibiotic.

That’s because the flu is viral in nature, meaning an antibiotic would not be effective in treating the illness—and could actually do more harm than good.

However, if you test positive for the flu within a day or two after symptoms begin, your doctor may prescribe an antiviral medication. Antivirals won’t “cure” your illness, but they can shorten its duration and its severity, so you may recover faster with less severe symptoms.

Beyond an antiviral, your doctor will likely recommend some basic at-home care. Care for the flu typically involves treating the individual symptoms you experience. This may include:

  • Getting plenty of rest to boost your immune system and help you recover
  • Taking an OTC anti-inflammatory or pain medication to reduce pain and help with fever
  • Using OTC antihistamines or decongestants depending on individual symptoms
  • Using a humidifier to increase the moisture in the air in your home
  • Taking throat lozenges to help with the pain of a sore throat
  • Using a nasal irrigation system to clear out the sinus passages
  • Drinking plenty of fluids to flush the illness and keep you hydrated

When the Flu Becomes an Emergency
While in most cases the flu will go away within a few days or up to a week, it’s important to keep an eye on your symptoms and seek additional medical attention if your condition worsens.

The Center for Disease Control and Prevention recommends seeking emergency care if you begin to experience:

  • Chest or abdominal pressure
  • Difficulty breathing
  • Dizziness
  • Excessive sleepiness
  • Fever that progressively worsens
  • Lack of urination
  • Seizures
  • Severe muscle pain
  • Shortness of breath
  • Weakness 

If you have the flu and don’t seem to be getting better or your symptoms are worsening, it’s better to be safe than sorry. Seek medical attention to make sure flu-related complications aren’t to blame.

Find yourself or a family member facing an emergency over the holidays? West Tennessee Healthcare offers EMERGENCY SERVICES IN SEVEN CONVENIENT LOCATIONS.