When To See a Doctor for the Flu

Do you know when you should go to the doctor with the flu?. Image Source/Getty Images

Everyone thinks they know what the flu is. But chances are, if you ask someone next to you what the symptoms are, their answer would be very different from yours. There are significant misconceptions about what the flu is and isn't.

Some people think it is not more than a bad cold and others think it's an illness that causes vomiting and diarrhea. In reality, the flu is a serious respiratory virus that kills an average of 36,000 people each year in the United States alone.

However, that doesn't mean everyone that gets it will need to go to the doctor for treatment. In fact, a majority of healthy children and adults that get it recover in about a week without treatment. But there are certain times when you shouldn't wait to seek medical care if you think you have the flu.

Contact your health care provider if:

  1. You think you are dehydrated or have persistent vomiting.
  2. You have a chronic medical condition - like asthma, heart disease or diabetes - that makes you more likely to develop serious symptoms or a secondary infection.
  3. You have flu symptoms and you care for an infant under 12 months old.
  4. Your symptoms don't improve or worsen after 5-7 days.
  5. You are over the age of 65.
  6. You are pregnant.

In your child has symptoms of the flu and:

  1. Has fewer wet diapers than normal or a decrease in urinary output
  2. Has significant vomiting or diarrhea
  3. The symptoms improve after a few days but then return with a fever and worse cough
  1. Won't drink many fluids
  2. Is under 12 months old

Seek emergency medical treatment if:

  1. You are having trouble breathing
  2. You have chest pain or pressure
  3. You experience sudden dizziness
  4. You become confused

In addition to the signs above, if your child:

  1. Is breathing fast or his skin is blue or gray
  2. Is very difficult to wake up or will not interact with you
  1. Is unusually irritable or crying and inconsolable
  2. Has a fever with a rash or bruises that appear unexpectedly
  3. Is an infant that is unable to eat or has no tears when crying

For more about emergency situations, see: When to Go to the Hospital With the Flu.

Influenza is a serious virus that affects between 5% and 20% of the US population each year. The severity of the flu season depends on the strain that makes a majority of people sick, how well matched and effective the flu vaccine is for that year and how many people get vaccinated. Although most people recover from the flu when they get it, thousands don't. Make sure you know what to watch for, what to do if you think you have the flu and when to seek medical attention.


"The Flu: What To Do If You Get Sick". Seasonal Influenza (Flu) 14 Aug 14. US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Department of Health and Human Services. 1 Nov 14.

"Diagnosing Flu". Seasonal Influenza (Flu) 25 Sep 13. US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Department of Health and Human Services. 1 Nov 14.

"Seasonal Influenza Q&A". Seasonal Influenza (Flu) 15 Aug 14. US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Department of Health and Human Services. 1 Nov 14.

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