What Does the Flu Feel Like?

You’re sneezy, stuffed up, and feel bad all over. Is it a cold, or do you have the flu?

The symptoms can be a lot alike. But if you know the warning signs of the flu, you can get treatment quickly and work on feeling better, sooner.

What You Need to Know

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

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:

You Think You Have the Flu. Now What?

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

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

If you're very sick or you have other medical conditions, you might need treatment with prescription medications called antiviral drugs.

These medicines -- oseltamivir (Tamiflu), peramivir (Rapivab), or zanamivir (Relenza) -- work best when you take them within 48 hours after your symptoms start. They can shorten the length of your illness by a day if you take them within this early window. They might help even after 2 days, if you have a bad case.

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

When Is Flu Season?

Seasonal flu follows a fairly predictable pattern, starting in the fall and ending in the spring. A sign that it’s started is the sudden rise in the number of school-aged children sick at home with a flu-like illness. This first outbreak is soon followed by an uptick in other groups, including parents.

WebMD Medical Reference Reviewed by Sabrina Felson, MD on July 19, 2017

Sources

SOURCES:

CDC: "Key facts about seasonal influenza (flu)," "Questions and Answers: Swine Flu and You," "Key Facts about Swine Influenza (Swine Flu)." “What You Should Know about Antiviral Drugs,” “The Flu: What To Do If You Get Sick.”

National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases: "Flu (Influenza): Symptoms."

National Jewish Medical and Research Center: "Influenza and the Flu Vaccine."

Asthma and Allergy Foundation of America: "Flu (Influenza)."

American Lung Association: "Influenza Fact Sheet."

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