I think I have the flu – should I see a doctor?
Most people who are generally healthy won’t need to see their doctor for the flu. Their immune system will fight the infection and their symptoms will usually clear up on their own.
If you think you have the flu, try to rest, maintain a good fluid intake, and manage your symptoms. This will help you recover and prevent dehydration.
See your doctor if you are concerned, and seek immediate medical attention if you experience any of the following symptoms:
- difficulty breathing
- chest pain
- sudden dizziness
- severe vomiting
- fever with a rash.
Most (otherwise healthy) adults will be able to infect other people up to seven days after becoming sick, so the best way to avoid spreading the flu is to stay at home while you are unwell. In particular, avoid going to work or school or visiting busy public places. Avoid sharing linens, eating utensils and dishes.
Perform good cough etiquette at all times. This includes coughing into a tissue and disposing of it immediately, or coughing into your sleeve.
Good hand hygiene is also important. Wash your hands regularly using soap and water, particularly if you cough into your hands.
The flu is a viral infection so antibiotics won’t help at all and should not be taken.
Antiviral medications, if started in the first two days after your symptoms start, can shorten the length of your illness. These will need to be prescribed by your doctor.
Decongestants and simple pain relievers can help you feel better while your body’s immune system fights off the infection.
Follow these tips for buying over-the-counter medication for the flu:
- Buy a remedy that treats only one symptom; this way you are not taking in substances that you do not need, or that may trigger an adverse reaction.
- Read the label to check:
− whether the active ingredient treats your symptoms
− any possible side effects of the medication
− any possible interactions the medication may have with any other medications you are taking, including over-the-counter, prescription, and alternative medicines (for example, herbal medicines)
− if the medication is safe for you to take with any other health conditions you have.
- If you are unsure if a medication is suitable for you to take, or if you have any other questions, talk to your doctor or pharmacist. They can suggest a medication that is appropriate and safe for you to take.
The best things you can do to look after yourself when you have the flu are:
- Rest – you will probably feel very weak and tired until your temperature returns to normal (about three days), and resting will provide comfort and allow your body to use its energy to fight the infection
- Stay at home – stay away from work or school and avoid contact with others as much as possible while the infection is contagious. The period during which adults are contagious is usually around 3–5 days from when the first symptoms appear, and up to 7 days in younger children.
- Drink plenty of fluids – extra fluids are needed to replace those lost because of the fever (through sweating). If your urine is dark, you need to drink more. Try to drink a glass of fluids, such as water, every hour while you are awake.
Other useful flu recovery tips include:
- Take simple pain-relieving medication such as paracetamol or ibuprofen, as directed on the packet, to ease muscle pain and bring down your fever (unless your doctor says otherwise).
- Do not give any medications that contain aspirin to children under 18 years of age with flu. The combination of the flu and aspirin in children has been known to cause Reye’s syndrome– a very serious condition affecting the nervous system and liver.
- Antibiotics are not effective against the flu because the flu is a virus, and antibiotics fight bacteria. However, your doctor may prescribe them if you develop a bacterial infection on top of your flu.
- Gargle with a glass of warm water to ease a sore throat. Sucking on sugar-free lollies or lozenges also helps.
- A hot water bottle or heating pad may help relieve muscle pain. A warm bath may also be soothing.
- Use saline nose drops or spray to help soothe or clear a stuffy nose. These decongestants help shrink swollen blood vessels in the nose. Talk to you doctor or pharmacist about which medication will be the best one for you.
- Do not smoke – this will irritate your damaged airways.
- Try warm, moist air inhalation. Boil a kettle and put the water in a bowl on a table. Put your head over the bowl with a towel over your head and inhale the warm air for up to 20 minutes. Don’t put anything in the water.
- Ask for help if you live alone, are a single parent, or are responsible for the care of someone who is frail or disabled. You may need to call someone to help you until you are feeling better.
- Remember, if you buy medicine at the pharmacy to treat your symptoms (over-the-counter medications), check with the pharmacist to see if it is the best one for you. Mention if you have a chronic illness or are taking any other medication.
- Your doctor
- Your pharmacist
- Immunise Australia Program