The flu is hitting people especially hard this year. In fact, you’ve probably heard about the young and otherwise healthy people who are becoming very sick — and even dying — from the flu. These are rare cases, but they raise the question of when you need medical care for flu symptoms, and when you can just care for yourself at home. John Dunn, MD, Kaiser Permanente physician, offers some guidelines on how you can decide.
When self-care isn’t enough
“If you think you have the flu, it’s smart to get medical help soon if you have a condition like asthma, diabetes, HIV, cancer, or other chronic conditions that put you at high risk of complications,” says Dr. Dunn. “People over 65 and women who are pregnant also should get medical attention. Antiviral medication can be given to help protect people who are at high risk for serious problems from the flu, but ideally it should be given within 2 days of getting sick or it may not do any good.”
Signs that it’s time for anyone to get medical care include:
- Trouble breathing
- Chest or stomach pain
- Dizziness or lightheadedness
- Severe vomiting
- High fever that doesn’t break after taking fever reducers
- Severe dehydration (urinating less frequently, having trouble keeping fluids down, feeling thirsty)
- Return of symptoms after a time of feeling better
Emergency medical care is needed for kids if:
- Their lips or skin appear bluish
- They can’t wake up or talk to you
- They have a high fever with a rash
Where can you get care?
Virtual and in-person care options are available for Kaiser Permanente members. Discover your care options.
Best ways to keep yourself well
“Getting a flu shot lowers your chances of getting sick, and it’s not too late to get vaccinated this year,” says Dr. Dunn. “If you do get sick, you’re less likely to have a severe case. And, with a flu shot, the chances that you’ll spread the flu to others in your home and community is reduced.”
Other ways to avoid the flu include:
- Washing your hands often and keeping them away from your eyes, nose, and mouth
- Eating healthy foods
- Getting plenty of exercise and rest
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