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Wed, Nov 9, 2022 at 07:18 PM

The Flu: Self-Treat, See a Doctor or Go to the Emergency Room

The flu rate in Alabama is on the rise according to the Alabama Department of Public Health, and it can be confusing to know how to handle the flu and those pesky respiratory symptoms. Following these helpful guidelines, should help you decide the best plan of care.

How Does Flu Spread?

Flu spreads by respiratory droplets from coughing or sneezing of an infected person. The droplets that land on surfaces can spread by hands and transfer to your mouth or nose just by touching. An infected person may spread the virus during the first 2 days before having any symptoms and up to 5-7 days or longer after becoming sick. Washing your hands frequently will help to decrease the chances of spreading the flu.

Self-Treating You Can Do at Home

Flu symptoms like fever, chills, muscle aches, dry or wet cough, sore throat, congestion, runny nose, headaches and fatigue will usually last about a week and mild symptoms can even be treated at home by taking over-the-counter medicine. Medicines, like Ibuprofen, are good to use as a fever reducer. Antihistamines and decongestants can help you breathe better and break up the annoying mucus. CDC recommends you stay home until you have been fever free for 24 hours without any fever-reducing medications.

“It is best to stay home and get plenty of rest,” said Gloria Clemons, RN IC, Infection Preventionist at Marshall Medical Centers. “Drink plenty of clear liquids to prevent getting dehydrated. A good bowl of chicken noodle soup will help keep your energy up.”

When to See a Doctor

There are times flu symptoms can turn moderate and you need to see your primary care physician. Flu complications can happen for people considered to be at high-risk, such as people over the age of 65, those who are pregnant, young children and people with chronic medical conditions. If you are in a higher-risk group, it’s best for you to contact your doctor right away to be treated early. CDC recommends that people at higher risk for complications should get antiviral treatment as early as possible, because benefit is greatest if treatment is started within 2 days of symptoms. The following signs indicate your body cannot fight the flu off on its own:

  • Fever gets better then suddenly worsens
  • Symptoms don’t improve within 2 weeks
  • Can’t get rid of cough or begin to have thick mucus
  • Pain concentrated in a single area such as your ear, chest or sinuses

These lists are not all inclusive. Please consult your medical provider for any other symptom that is severe or concerning.

“Fever alone does not necessarily mean that emergency care is necessary,” Dr. David Pelini, Emergency Room Medical Director for Marshall Medical Centers South said. “A call to the patient’s family doctor or pediatrician can be helpful in deciding whether evaluation in the office or clinic can be scheduled, or a visit to the ER is suggested.”

Time to go to the Emergency Room

Rare and severe cases of the flu may require you to visit the emergency room at your nearest hospital. You should familiarize yourself with the following severe signs:

  • Difficulty breathing
  • Chest or stomach pain
  • Dizziness or lightheadedness
  • Severe vomiting
  • Severe neck stiffness
  • Lips or skin appear bluish
  • The person can’t wake up or interact with you
  • Have a high fever with a rash

These lists are not all inclusive. Please consult your medical provider for any other symptom that is severe or concerning.

Preventive Measures for Flu Season

The greatest tool to prevent the spread of any virus is clean hands. You should wash your hands often to keep from spreading flu to others. Cover mouth and nose when coughing or sneezing. ADPH suggests that everyone over six months of age should receive a flu vaccine and those who fall in the high-risk category should strongly consider being vaccinated. If you have tested positive for the flu or suspect you have contracted the virus, stay away from others. If you must leave home to seek medical care, wear a facemask, or cover coughs and sneezes with a tissue and social distancing yourself 6 feet from others.