Getting the flu is never fun. But for most people, having the flu means being sick in bed for a few days and then being able to get back on your feet once you start feeling better.
However, some flu symptoms, like sudden dizziness, might be a sign of a more serious medical issue, like sepsis or pneumonia. It’s important to know the difference between normal or typical symptoms of the flu and more serious symptoms, which could be potentially life-threatening.
Normal symptoms of the flu
Many people who have the flu might experience the following symptoms:
- Fever or chills
- Fatigue or tiredness
- Muscle or body aches
- Sore throat
- Stuffy nose
Additionally, some people with the flu might experience vomiting and diarrhea, although these symptoms are more common in children than adults. Not everyone who has the flu develops a high fever, but it is common to have a fever when you have the flu.
High-risk populations for the flu
Usually, these mild flu symptoms will subside after a week or two, even without treatment. Some people with weakened immune systems or those who are at higher risk of developing complications from the flu — such as pregnant women, young children, seniors, or nursing home residents — will need to take an antiviral medication if they have the flu. Antiviral medications work best within the first two days of having flu symptoms.
If you are in a high risk group, call your doctor at the first sign of the flu. If you feel very sick or are worried about your flu symptoms, you should also call your doctor.
Serious flu symptoms you should be worried about
Potentially dangerous symptoms of the flu vary depending on your age and include:
- Trouble eating
- Difficulty breathing
- Crying without tears
- Fewer wet diapers than usual
- Breathing problems
- Bluish skin tone
- Trouble drinking enough fluids
- Hard time waking up or interacting with others
- Improvement in flu symptoms that later return with fever and cough
- Fever accompanied by a rash
- Shortness of breath
- Abdominal discomfort or chest pain
- Sudden dizziness
- Severe or persistent vomiting
- Flu-like symptoms that improve but then return with fever and worse cough
If you or a loved one has any of these serious flu symptoms, go to the emergency room. These signs could indicate a severe illness, like pneumonia, an asthma attack, sepsis, or inflammation of the heart or brain. These health conditions can be life-threatening if left untreated.
What to do if you get the flu
To prevent the flu, it’s important to get a flu shot every year, ideally in the fall. Healthy habits — like washing your hands regularly, avoiding contact with sick people and eating a healthy diet — can also help prevent the flu virus from spreading.
If you do contract the flu, call your doctor if serious symptoms present themselves, or if you are at an increased risk of flu-related health complications. People with the flu should stay home, get plenty of rest, avoid spreading the virus to others, stay hydrated and take ibuprofen or acetaminophen if you have muscle aches or a fever.
It’s important to take the symptoms of the flu seriously. Talk to your doctor about getting a flu shot and defending yourself against the flu virus.
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