What to Do When You Get the Flu

Man with the flu
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No one wants to get the flu, but the first thing everyone wants to know when they do get it is how soon it will go away. Unfortunately, there is no simple answer to that: it varies for everyone, but flu symptoms will generally last between 3 and 7 days, although coughing can last much longer.

If you do come down with the flu, there are several steps you should take to start feeling better and protect those around you from also catching it.

Go Home

If you develop flu symptoms while at work, school, a friend's house or in any public place, go home. You don't need to be around other people when you're sick, because you will only spread the virus. The best thing you can do is to go home and get in bed to try to get as much rest as possible.

Call Your Health Care Provider

When you develop flu symptoms or think you might have the flu, you should contact your health care provider within the first 48 hours. Contacting your health care provider as soon as possible will give you a chance to discuss your symptoms and health history with him, determine if you need to be seen for an exam, and give you a chance to get a prescription for an antiviral medication, such as Tamiflu, if your health care provider feels that it would benefit you. The reason this contact needs to happen so quickly when you develop symptoms is that Tamiflu needs to be started within the first 48 hours of the onset of flu symptoms to be effective.

Unless you have one of these signs of a medical emergency, you do not need to go to the emergency room when you have the flu.

Call in Sick

After you call your health care provider, go ahead and call work or school and let them know you won't be able to come in for the next few days. Trying to work or go to school when you have the flu is ineffective, and you'll only expose other people to the virus. You should stay home as much as possible while you're sick, and definitely at least as long as you have a fever.

Most schools have policies that require students to stay home for at least 24 hours after a fever has subsided without the use of fever-reducing medications such as Tylenol (acetaminophen) or Motrin (ibuprofen). Although it may not be a rule for a workplace, it's a good guideline to follow for adults as well: just because your fever is gone for a few hours doesn't mean you are better and healthy enough to be at work. Give yourself time to recover, and you will end up getting back to work faster in the long run.

Evaluate Your Symptoms

Once you've made all of the phone calls you need to make and you're at home resting, take note of the symptoms you're experiencing. Although certain symptoms are common with the flu, not every person experiences every symptom.

Evaluating each symptom will ensure that you don't miss any signs of serious illness, and will help you figure out which medications to take or how to alleviate those symptoms effectively.

We have easy-to-follow guides to help you sort through your flu symptoms and determine what you need to do based on what is bothering you.

  • Evaluate Your Cold and Flu Symptoms
  • Fever
  • Congestion
  • Cough
  • Vomiting

Get the Medications You Need

There are hundreds of over-the-counter medications available that are marketed to treat your flu symptoms. Knowing which one is right for you can be confusing, to say the least. Combine that with the fact that many of them have changed formulations in recent years, and you might not even realize exactly what you're taking anymore.

You should always be aware of the symptoms you have, and the medication you take should treat only those symptoms. Taking a multi-symptom medication that treats symptoms you don't have is not only a waste, but it can cause unnecessary side effects and may sometimes be dangerous. You also want to avoid taking multiple medications that may contain the same or similar ingredients, because this can—and frequently does—lead to an overdose. One common ingredient that you want to watch for specifically is Tylenol (acetaminophen), which is included in many multi-symptom cold and flu medications, and people often take extra to reduce their fevers or aches and pains, not realizing that they're taking more than they should. Taking too much acetaminophen can be life-threatening and lead to liver failure.

Pay Attention to the Ingredients

If you aren't feeling well and need some help figuring out which over-the-counter medication will bring you some relief, check out our Guide to Cold and Flu Medications. Here you will learn what different classes of medications do, common examples of name-brand medications in each category, and how to determine which ones you should and shouldn't take.

If you prefer not to take traditional over-the-counter medications to relieve your flu symptoms, there are still things you can do to make yourself more comfortable while you're dealing with the flu. Get as much rest as possible, drink plenty of fluids to stay hydrated, and run a humidifier to keep your airways moist and make breathing easier.

Ask for Help If You Need It

Asking for help is difficult for many people—we want to show the world that we can handle life on our own. But being sick with the flu often means you can't do the things that you need to do, and it's very likely you'll need help with something. If you're a parent and you get the flu, you may need help taking care of your children. If you have work at the office, you may need to delegate some tasks to others or ask for assistance with some of your responsibilities. Don't be afraid to ask for help when you need it; most people are willing to pitch in to help each other out, and you can always do the same for someone else when you are feeling well again.

If friends or family members ask what they can do to help, you can share these ideas with them so they'll feel as if they're being helpful without making things more difficult for you or increasing their chances of getting sick themselves.

Watch for Signs of Complications

Unfortunately, suffering through some miserable symptoms is something you just can't avoid if you get the flu. There is no magic pill that will cure it in a matter of hours, and the symptoms are often debilitating.

However, there are certain symptoms and circumstances that are not normal and do warrant a trip to see your health care provider for further evaluation. If you're in a high-risk group that puts you at risk for more serious illness from the flu than the general population, make sure you know what to do if you get it. If you feel like anything is worse than it should be, or the symptoms of your chronic medical condition worsen, contact your health care provider.

Even if you're not in a high-risk group, if you develop symptoms of one of these common flu complications such as bronchitis or pneumonia, contact your health care provider to determine the best course of action for you.

You should also keep in mind the warning signs of a medical emergency while you have the flu so you will know whether or not you need to go to the hospital with your flu symptoms.

Knowing what to do when you get the flu may not make having it any easier, but it will ensure that you follow the steps you need to get on the road to recovery as quickly as possible.

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Article Sources

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