When Should You Go To The Doctor If You Have The Flu? The Answer Might Surprise You

Ad failed to load

News flash: It's flu season — and statistically, some of you reading this have already caught the dreaded virus. As you languish on the couch like the heroine of a 19th century romance, surrounded by a small mountain range of used tissues, you may be wondering when you should go to the doctor if you have the flu. Should you drag your feverish, clammy butt to an urgent care or ride out the misery alone, so you don't infect the innocent public?

The good news is that while you might feel like you're knocking on death's door, most people recover from the flu within a week or two, with the worst symptoms (high fever, sore throat, and so on) subsiding after the first few unhappy days. According to the Mayo Clinic, the best treatment is usually simple bed rest and drinking plenty of fluids until the virus runs its course. In fact, the Centers for Disease Control (CDC) are pretty clear on whether your average, otherwise-healthy person should head to the doctor at the first sign of the flu:

"Most people with the flu have mild illness and do not need medical care or antiviral drugs. If you get sick with flu symptoms, in most cases, you should stay home and avoid contact with other people except to get medical care."
Ad failed to load

Basically, if you're experiencing run-of-the-mill flu symptoms like cough, fever, body aches, and fatigue, you're likely OK to stay home and rest — just make sure to monitor your symptoms, especially if you have a fever. The CDC also stresses the importance of going to the emergency room only in the event of an emergency. "The emergency room should be used for people who are very sick. You should not go to the emergency room if you are only mildly ill," the website states.

This prevents the spread of influenza, which is known for being incredibly contagious. Scientists believe that the virus is airborne, carried in the droplets people cast out into the world when they cough, sneeze, or even just talk. In fact, according to the CDC, people with the flu can infect other people standing six feet away. Unfortunately, the contagious period usually begins the day before symptoms develop and lasts up to a week after they get sick, so many people might not realize they're spreading their illness around. Consider this your reminder to wash your hands regularly, especially during flu season.

Ad failed to load

So if most people should stay home when they have the flu, how are you supposed to know when to head to the doctor? The answer depends on your past medical history, as well as the severity of your symptoms. Although most people recover from the flu on their own, certain groups are at a high risk for complications like bronchitis or pneumonia. According to the CDC, these groups include children younger than five years old, adults older than 65, pregnant women, and people in long-term care facilities like nursing homes. If you or a loved one fall into any of those categories, the CDC actually recommends contacting your doctor early on in the illness.

But people in low-risk groups aren't impervious to the flu. Harvard Health Publishing explains that the following symptoms are worth getting in touch with your medical provider:

  • Shortness of breath
  • A fever above 103 degrees Fahrenheit
  • Coughing up "yellow, green or brown sputum"
  • Earache
  • Sharp pain in the chest with each deep breath
  • Lightheadedness
  • A history of chronic illness or taking immunosuppressant drugs
Ad failed to load

The CDC has a similar list that also includes severe vomiting and confusion. It also notes that these symptoms may look different in children; instead, warning signs in kids may manifest as irritability, trouble breathing, bluish skin, fever with a rash, inability to wake up, not drinking enough fluids, or "flu-like symptoms improve but then return with fever and worse cough."


All this being said, it's always better to be safe than sorry. Currently, the flu season is in full swing, and the 2017-18 season has proven to be a doozy. According to CBS News, the flu has been widespread in every state except Hawaii for three straight weeks now. Alabama has declared a state of emergency over the flu outbreak, and a school district in Florida cancelled classes on Friday due to the virus. Nearly 12,000 flu-related hospitalizations were reported between October 1 and Jan. 20, according to CNN, making this season particularly fierce. If you're worried about your symptoms, it can't hurt to at least give your doctor a call. Meanwhile, don't forget to rest up.

Ad failed to load

For those who haven't gotten sick, there are ways to avoid catching the virus. Wash your hands thoroughly and often, avoid contact with sick people, and disinfect surfaces that might be contaminated. Most importantly, remember that it's never too late to get a flu shot. Shots are no fun, but you know what's worse? The flu.

Ad failed to load
Must Reads

Everything Leaving & Coming To Netflix In June To Help Get Your Summer Started

Summer is right around the corner, and so is another batch of streaming options to get excited about. On Wednesday, everything leaving and coming to Netflix in June 2018 was announced by the streaming platform. And don't worry, there's something for …
By Jamie Primeau

The 5 Rom-Coms You Need To Read This Summer, According To Someone Who Writes Them

'Tis the season for rom-coms. The weather is warm, the sun is shining, and everyone is rocking the flirtiest items in their wardrobe. I don't know about you, but summer always takes me back to my teenage years — and that automatically makes me want t…
By Cristina Arreola

11 Tiny Sunglasses That Will Make You Look Even Cooler Than Kylie Jenner

You know what they say — the tinier the sunglasses, the more stylish the outfit. OK, that's not really a saying, but it seems to be the case these days. Basically every celebrity, model, and It person has been spotted sporting tiny sunglasses as part…
By Sara Tan

9 Ways This Royal Wedding Was Way More Modern Than Past Ones

The newly named Duke and Duchess of Sussex, Prince Harry and Meghan Markle, made history with their storybook courtship and wedding. What's more, there are myriad ways the royal wedding 2018 was more modern than previous royal weddings. From deciding…
By Brandi Neal

10 Little-Known British Traditions Meghan Markle Will Learn When She Marries Prince Harry

As an American woman dating a Brit, I am no stranger to the mishaps that can result from the cultural differences between the U.S. and England. And while I'm sure Meghan Markle has a slew of royal traditions to learn, titles to remember, and fancy ha…
By Kristin Magaldi

I've Paid $18,000 To A $24,000 Student Loan, & I Still Owe $24,000

It all became real the summer before my senior year of college. It was 2010, and my home phone still had a cord, which I wrapped around my fingers as I waited not-so-patiently for the apathetic representative on the other end to tell me the bad news …
By Kaitlyn Cawley

12 Personality Quizzes That Will Help You Determine Your Exact Strengths

Learning more about yourself can be tough. It's so easy to observe others to learn what makes them tick, what areas they really excel in, and the things they could be better at. Doing that to yourself, however, is a whole different story. That's exac…
By Jessica Booth

5 Brand New Short Story Collections You Can Finish In One Sitting This Weekend

Since 2013, May has been known by book-lovers by another name: Short Story Month. If you're ready to kick off this year's celebration the right way, make sure to pick up a short story collection to read over the weekend. Modern life moves more than …
By Sadie Trombetta

I Got Styled By 'Queer Eye's Tan France & Realized I Still Have A Lot Of Fashion "Rules" To Unlearn

When I walked into a New York City Express store on May 2 to get styled by Queer Eye's Tan France, I was ready for anything. And I mean truly anything. I am such a massive fan of the show and Tan that if he had instructed me to wrap myself in tin foi…
By Olivia Muenter

It Isn’t Bad To Have A “Princess Fantasy” — Mine Made Me The Woman I Am Today

What do you want to be when you grow up? If you were anything like me as a kid, at some point, the answer to that question was "a princess." Thanks to good old-fashioned gender stereotypes, most little girls born in the '90s (and even now) grew up in…
By Nicole Pomarico

Here’s How To Get A FREE 30-Minute Facial At Sephora That Sucks Your Pores Clean

Sephora has long been a mecca for both serious and amateur beauty lovers alike, where they not only have makeup artists that help answer questions about products, but free samples to let you play with new collections. But now they have upped the ante…
By Marlen Komar

Kris Jenner Is FINALLY Launching A Makeup Line With Kylie

Maybe you don't have a favorite sister of the Kar-Jenner clan, and that's perfectly fine. The one thing you can't deny, though, is that when it comes power, no one in that family has more than the world famous momager. Now, Kris Jenner x Kylie Cosmet…
By Shea Simmons

This Kendall Jenner “Diva” Moment Is Really Being Taken Out Of Context

The fashion always takes center stage at the Met Gala, but there's usually a little drama, too. And this time, a member of the Kardashian-Jenner family is involved. People are buzzing about how Kendall Jenner shoved someone at the Met Gala, but after…
By Nicole Pomarico

Feel Like You've Seen Everything On Netflix? Add These Movies To Your Watch List

The weekend may feel too far away, but if you're lacking formal plans, a Netflix marathon session is always a good idea. If you're an avid viewer, however, you probably feel like you've seen everything the streaming platform has to offer already. In …
By Ashley Rey

These 4 Zodiac Signs Are Going To Have The Best Luck In Love This May

Spring fever is here, but not all signs in the zodiac are dealt the same dose of lovin'. Some signs are going to have a better love lives than the rest of us in May, because that's just the way the cookie crumbles. According to astrologer Linda Furia…
By Kaitlyn Wylde

Hillary Clinton Says She's Ready To Fight Like A Republican — EXCLUSIVE

Hillary Clinton Is Not Going Away Quietly. Can Hillary Clinton Please Go Quietly Into The Night? Unlike Losers Before Her, Clinton Is Not Going Gently Into the Night. These headlines, which appeared in various news outlets over the course of the last…
By Catherine Thompson and Jenny Hollander

Here's The Very Best Time To Book Your Summer Vacation If You're Trying To Save Money

Summer is a great time to travel, for obvious reasons. The weather is better. Many offices are more lax about time off. If you have kids, they’re out of school. But there’s one very important element that makes summer not a great time to travel: Cost…
By Emma McGowan