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When Is Your Flu Severe Enough to Go to the ER?

Flu activity this season is widespread throughout the majority of the United States, and February has been the peak month of activity more often than any other month since 1982. The flu is a serious illness that can have life-threatening complications. Flu symptoms come on suddenly and may be severe, but how do you know when your flu symptoms are severe enough to go to the emergency room?

Common Flu Symptoms That Don’t Warrant an Emergency Room Visit

If you contract the flu, you’ll most likely experience some or all of these symptoms:

  • Fever that is often accompanied with chills
  • Cough
  • Sore throat
  • Runny or stuffy nose
  • Muscle and/or body aches
  • Headache
  • Feeling tired and weak
  • Some people may experience vomiting and diarrhea, but these tend to be more common in children than adults

Signs That You May Need to Visit the Emergency Room

Generally, you shouldn’t need to visit the ER unless you feel very sick. However, if you experience the following emergency warning signs of the flu, you should visit the emergency room.

Signs in children:

  • Fast breathing or difficulty breathing
  • Bluish skin color
  • Not drinking enough fluids
  • Not waking up or not interacting
  • Being so irritable that the child doesn’t want to be held
  • Flu-like symptoms that improve but then return with a fever and a worse cough
  • Fever with a rash

In addition to the warning signs above, seek immediate medical help for an infant who has any of the following signs:

  • Not able to eat
  • Has trouble breathing
  • Doesn’t have tears when crying
  • Has significantly fewer wet diapers than normal

Signs in adults:

  • Having difficulty breathing or shortness of breath
  • Pain or pressure in the chest or abdomen
  • Sudden dizziness
  • Confusion
  • Severe and/or persistent vomiting
  • Flu-like symptoms that improve but then return with a fever and a worse cough

Certain people are considered to be at high-risk of developing serious flu-related complications. These people include young children, people 65 or older, pregnant women, and people with certain chronic medical conditions. If you fall into a high-risk group and develop flu symptoms, it’s recommended you contact your doctor as early as possible in your illness.

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