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Flu Symptoms: When to See a Doctor

As fall goes on and temperatures get lower, you might start worrying about common illnesses associated with colder weather, like the cold or influenza. The flu, as it’s more commonly called, is one of the most dreaded viruses and you’re probably familiar with how contagious it can be and how it seems to rapidly circulate in schools, offices, and other public or shared spaces.

Because between 5% and 20% of Americans get the flu each year, you probably know some of the common flu symptoms. However, you may not know when you should see a doctor. We’ll take a look at some of the symptoms that most people experience as well as more serious symptoms that signal you need formal medical attention.

What are Common Flu Symptoms?

The flu is caused by an influenza virus that infects the nose, throat, and sometimes lungs. Doctors believe that the flu mostly spreads through microdroplets of saliva released during a cough or sneeze. Transmission of the virus by surface contact is less common.

The most common flu symptoms are:

  • Fever
  • Chills
  • Fatigue
  • Sore throat
  • Headaches
  • Muscle or body aches
  • Cough
  • Nausea, vomiting or diarrhea (more common in children)

When Should You See a Doctor?

While most people who contract the flu have mild cases, there are times when it can be dangerous or even life-threatening. To decide whether or not you should go to the doctor (or take your child to their pediatrician) you need to take into consideration general health and the severity of symptoms.

Some people opt to go to the doctor when they suspect that the flu is the culprit behind their illness so they can get a definitive diagnosis. This can be helpful if you are concerned about whether you should miss work or your child needs to stay home from school. Your doctor can also prescribe medication to lessen symptoms and potentially shorten the length of the illness.

If you or your child is at a higher risk of having flu-related complications, visit the doctor if you suspect the flu. The CDC has detailed information about who is at higher risk and why. Some of the things that increase the risk of complications include:

  • Being younger than one year old
  • Being older than 65
  • Having a BMI of 40 or greater
  • Having a weakened immune system due to:
    • HIV
    • Cancer being treated by chemotherapy
    • Blood cancer
    • Organ transplant
    •  Long-term steroid use
  • Being pregnant or have given birth in the past two weeks
  • Being younger than 19 years old and receiving long-term aspirin therapy
  • Having certain chronic medical conditions such as:
    • Asthma or airway abnormalities
    • Heart disease
    • Diabetes
    • Kidney disease
    • Liver disease
    • Blood disease
    • Neurological or neurodevelopmental disease

If you think symptoms are worse than usual, you should also seek medical attention. Many times, seeing your regular doctor or your child’s pediatrician is enough. But if the symptoms are severe enough, you should go to the emergency room. However, keep in mind that the ER is not where you should go if you are only mildly ill. Not only will it make it more difficult for others to get timely medical attention, but you also run the risk of contracting other illnesses and the flu if your case is a false alarm. Keeping that in mind, seek emergency medical treatment if your child exhibits certain flu symptoms.

For Children

  • Bluish lips or face
  • Fever above 104°F
  • Any fever in infants younger than 12 weeks
  • Chest pain
  • Fast breathing/trouble breathing
  • Muscle pain severe enough to prevent the child from walking or moving around
  • Dehydration (lack of urination, dry mouth, no tears)
  • A fever or cough that seems to resolves but reappears and worsens
  • Lack of interacting or alertness while awake
  • Seizures
  • Worsening of existing chronic medical conditions

At Carithers Pediatric Group, we specialize in giving the highest quality health care to children from infancy to college years. We strive to provide family-centered care that includes vaccination and sick visits to help with illnesses like the flu. To discuss your child’s health, whether you’re concerned about the flu or something else, you can visit either our Riverside office (904-387-6200) or our Southside office (904-997-0023) in Jacksonville, FL.