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When to Call the Doctor About Flu

If you've just come down with miserable flu symptoms, you may wonder when to call the doctor. Sooner is better than later in case your doctor thinks you would benefit from flumedications that may help shorten the duration of your illness.

What Are Common Flu Symptoms?

The first challenge is determining if you have the flu. If you have any of these symptoms, give your doctor a call. Common symptoms of the flu include:

  • Fever (though not everyone with the flu will have a fever)
  • Headache
  • Extreme tiredness
  • Cough
  • Sore throat
  • Runny or stuffy nose
  • Muscle aches
  • Nausea, vomiting, and diarrhea (much more common among children than adults)

In addition, if you've had the flu for a few days and then get worse, call your doctor immediately. These symptoms may indicate a secondary or bacterial infection with flu. Call your doctor right away if:

  • Your fever returns
  • Your fever lasts for longer than 3 days
  • You have difficulty breathing (Call 911 if you have any trouble breathing.)
  • You cannot stop vomiting and can't keep liquids down
  • You wheeze when you breathe
  • Your flu symptoms are worsening each day
  • An infant or young child has any fever or symptoms of the flu
  • If you have a chronic medical condition such as heart disease, asthma, COPD, diabetes, or HIV/AIDS, it's important to call your doctor when the first flu symptoms appear, as flu might increase the risk of serious problems associated with your chronic condition. For instance, if you have asthma and flu, you may need to boost your asthma medications and asthma inhalers to prevent an asthma attack. Your doctor can instruct you.

Also, seek emergency medical help if you or a loved one has a severe headache or stiff neck.

What Flu Tests Will My Doctor Use?

Most of the time, a flu diagnosis is made by the person's symptoms. In some cases, your doctor may also run flu tests to make an accurate flu diagnosis. These tests usually involve taking a swab from your mouth and culturing this to identify the flu virus. Rapid flu tests may give your doctor results in about five to 30 minutes. Your doctor may prefer to use a rapid flu test before prescribing flu drugs, which must be taken within 48 hours of the first flu symptoms.

What Antiviral Drugs Will My Doctor Prescribe for the Flu?

According to the CDC, two flu antiviral drugs are recommended for use in the U.S. These antiviral drugs are Tamiflu and Relenza.

  • Tamiflu is approved for prevention of flu in people ages 1 and older. It can be used to treat the flu in patients as young as 2 weeks old.
  • Relenza is approved to treat flu in people ages 7 and older and to prevent flu in people ages 5 and older.

Tamiflu and Relenza works best if given within 48 hours of the onset of flu symptoms. These flu drugs can often decrease the duration of the flu by one to two days if used within this early time period. They are usually given for about five days to treat the flu.

Your doctor will determine if you can take antiviral drugs with a flu diagnosis, but you need to call your doctor as soon as you have flu symptoms for these drugs to provide the most benefit.


WebMD Medical Reference

Reviewed by Melinda Ratini, DO, MS on August 13, 2014
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