A Day-by-Day Look at Flu Symptoms

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Day 0

Dinner party
You can spread the flu before you know you have it. Thomas Barwick/Stone/Getty Images

The flu affects different people in different ways. Not everyone who gets the flu will have the same symptoms.

Although the virus will not affect everyone in the same way, take a look at some of the most common ways it can affect someone on a day-by-day basis so you can be prepared and know what to expect if you or a family member gets the flu.

Day 0

This is the day before any symptoms appear. Today, you feel fine. You are attending a birthday party, having dinner with friends, and are unknowingly spreading the virus around. This is the day before any symptoms appear, you are already contagious.

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Flu Day 1

A woman sick in bed. Photo © Stockbyte/Getty

Today, you woke up feeling miserable. You are now running a fever, have a cough, and a sore throat. These are the most common symptoms of the flu. Unfortunately, if you have asthma, you might be at higher risk for complications ​from the flu. You can call a doctor or health care physician to ask if you can take an antiviral medication like Tamiflu.

Unfortunately, you do not have health insurance or a doctor, and you wait to see how you feel tomorrow to decide if it is worth spending the money on a visit to the doctor. If you do not have any conditions which place you at high risk for complications from the flu, you may not need treatment with an antiviral medication. ​Antiviral medications are most effective if started within the first 48 hours of symptoms.​​

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Flu Day 2

Coughing. Photo © George Doyle/Getty

It is your second day with the flu, you may have been up most of the night coughing and your fast-acting inhaler did not help much with your asthma symptoms. You may be feeling miserable to the point that even your eyelids hurt. You are still running a fever of 102 F and you may find it difficult to get out of bed.

Because you are not feeling any better, you decide it is worth the money to go see a doctor today. You go to a walk-in urgent care clinic where you are diagnosed with a flu-like illness—likely influenza—even though no test was performed.

Even though asthma might put you at higher risk for more complications, the health care provider does not prescribe an antiviral medication and sends you home with cough medication instead. 

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Flu Day 3

Relenza, an antiviral medication to treat or prevent the flu. Photo © GlaxoSmithKline

On your third day with flu symptoms, you are still feeling exhausted, your throat is hurting and you still have a fever. Your cough is not really improving even though you have been taking a cough medication. After talking to your friends who are health care professionals, you decide to go to a different walk-in clinic where you are prescribed an antiviral medication, Relenza.

Although Relenza is effective against the flu, it is an inhaled medication and is not recommended for people with asthma or other lung diseases because it can make their symptoms worse. You do not know this (although the health care professional who prescribed it should have) and you start taking it. Overnight, your cough gets worse, and you feel like it is getting more difficult to breathe.

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Flu Day 4

Tamiflu packages. Justin Sullivan/Getty Images News

On the fourth day with the flu, your cough is not getting better. Your fever has come down, and you are not feeling quite as achy. After talking to your friend who is a nurse, she calls the clinic where you were seen yesterday and speaks with someone who agrees that you should be taking Tamiflu instead of Relenza because of your asthma. Unfortunately, the pharmacy does not have any Tamiflu in stock.

Many people start to feel better by their fourth day with the flu. You are having a more difficult time recovering from the virus because of your asthma. You also learn that a friend of yours who was at the birthday party with you the day before your symptoms began is now sick as well. People with the flu may be contagious anywhere between the day before to seven days after their symptoms appear.

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Flu Day 5

Teenage girl coughing. Arthur Tilley/The Image Bank/Getty Images

On day five of your flu infection, the pharmacy calls to let you know that Tamiflu is in stock again. However, it is likely too late in the illness for it to make a difference for you. It is expensive, you do not have health insurance, and you were not able to take it within 24 to 48 hours, for these reasons you decide not to get the medication.

You are actually starting to feel better anyway. Your fever is gone and your cough is getting better. You are still staying at home because you do not want to expose anyone else to your illness.

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Flu Day 6

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Should you exercise when you don't feel well?. MjDigitalArt/E+/Getty Images

On your sixth day with the flu, you are still feeling tired but you are breathing easier and your fever is gone. You decide that you want to get back into your routine and go out for a jog. Your body is not fully recovered from the virus though, so you do not make it far before you have to come back home.

You go home, take a nap, and are feeling OK when you wake up so you decide to go out to dinner with some friends.

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Flu Day 7

Sick woman in bed
Returning symptoms after feeling better is a sign of a secondary infection. Svetlana Braun/E+/Getty Images

When you wake up on day seven, you are feeling well. You go to visit your family, and you feel like you have recovered from the illness.

Later in the evening, you start to feel run down, you develop another high fever, and start to vomit. Also, you are experiencing chest pain and your cough returns.

Although the flu is mild for most people, some individuals develop complications or secondary infections. If you start to feel better and then suddenly get sick again, you should see your health care provider to determine if you have another infection, especially if you are considered at higher risk of asthma as a complicating factor.

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Flu Day 8

X-ray of lungs showing left lower lobe pneumonia. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention

On your eighth day with the flu, you are experiencing a painful cough and a fever. You are very frustrated because you thought you were better, but now you are sick again and unable to go to work or school.

Finally, after another few days with a cough, fever, and vomiting, you make a trip to the emergency room. You are diagnosed with a secondary infection of pneumonia after x-rays are taken. You are given a prescription for antibiotics and sent home. You begin to feel better after another two to three days.

This flu account is not typical for everyone—and shows that there can be some missteps along the way with the quality of health care. The more that you know, the better advocate you can be for you or a loved one during times of illness.

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