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Flu Symptoms

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It can be hard to tell the difference between the flu and the common cold, since the symptoms can be similar. But if you know the warning signs of flu, you can get treatment quickly and work on feeling better, sooner.

Why Do I Need to Know About Flu Symptoms?

Unlike a cold, flu symptoms usually come on suddenly. Another key sign is a fever, which may not happen with a cold. You might also have:

  • Severe aches in your joints and muscles
  • Pain and tiredness around your eyes
  • Weakness or fatigue
  • Warm, flushed skin and red, watery eyes
  • Headache
  • Dry cough
  • Sore throat and runny nose

Adults with seasonal flu don’t usually vomit or have diarrhea, but children might. Some symptoms can mean your illness is severe. Get immediate medical help if you have any of the following:

  • Trouble breathing or shortness of breath
  • Pain or pressure in your chest or belly
  • Sudden dizziness
  • Confusion
  • Severe vomiting

Will My Symptoms Get Worse?

Most people recover in a few days to less than 2 weeks. But the flu can turn into more serious complications, like bacterial pneumonia, ear infections, sinus infections, meningitis, and dehydration. You’re at a higher risk for these problems if you’re 65 or older, or if you have certain medical conditions, like:

  • Asthma
  • Heart problems, like congestive heart failure
  • Brain or nervous system conditions
  • Blood disorders, such as sickle cell disease
  • COPD, cystic fibrosis, and other lung diseases
  • Kidney disease
  • A weak immune system because of a disease, like cancer or HIV/AIDS, or a medication

For in-depth information, see WebMD's Flu Complications.

I Think I Have the Flu. Now What?

In most cases, the best way to treat the flu is to:

  • Rest at home.
  • Drink plenty of fluids.
  • Avoid contact with other people.

But people who are very sick or who have other medical conditions may need treatment with prescription medications, called antiviral drugs.

Antiviral drugs -- Relenza and Tamiflu -- are most effective when you take them within 48 hours after you start showing symptoms of flu. They can shorten the length of your illness by 1 day if you take them within this early window. They may also help even after the 2 days, especially in people who are very sick.

Your doctor may want you to take antiviral drugs if you have a high risk of complications from the flu.

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