Influenza: When to go to the emergency room

Doctors: Flu symptoms might not warrant ER visits

CINCINNATI -- Sniffles, coughs and high temperatures send thousands to the hospital year after year.

Influenza floods emergency rooms; most of the time with non-life threatening illnesses.

Although 35 states have confirmed cases of the flu in the U.S. as of the first week of January, the FluView  weekly surveillance report conducted by the CDC says Ohio has low influenza-like illness (ILI) activity for the first week of 2014. 

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But flu season peaks in late January and February, meaning the brunt of the widespread virus may have not reached its full potential yet.

How Do I Know If I Have The Flu?

If you begin to feel ill after being in a public place, or around those who have had close contact with others, it could be a multitude of things. Many flu symptoms mirror the same symptoms of having the common cold, but ABC's Dr. Jennifer Ashton says it's not just a bad cold.

Nausea, chills, sore throat, moderate fever, headaches, runny nose and coughing are all flu symptoms and do not warrant an emergency room visit. 

If you don't think your symptoms are bad enough for the ER but you are still concerned, contact your family physician or visit a clinic. They may prescribe antibiotics if the symptoms progress into a bacterial infection.

Those that hold the "this will pass" attitude with a day or two of deliberating before symptoms either worsen or begin to get better lose out on some of the commonly available care.

Flu treatments are typically most effective for the first 48 hours after your symptoms begin. If you wait, antiviral drugs like Tamiflu  and Relenza won't be as effective. At best, antiviral drugs are 70 to 90 percent effective at preventing the flu, according to the government website  on the flu.

But how do you know when it's bad enough to go to the ER?

Doctors say that most flu patients should stay away from the ER. Dr. David Zich, internal medicine and emergency medicine physician at Northwestern Memorial Hospital in Chicago, told CNN . These patients will be sent home after waiting for long periods of time because there is very little that can be done for them.

But there are cases in which conditions worsen and it is time to make a trip to the hospital. On average, 20,000 people are hospitalized each year for flu-like symptoms.

If you are having an exceptionally hard time breathing with shortness of breath, dizziness and confusion, dehydration from severe vomiting or experiencing abdominal or chest pains, doctors say it's time to go to the hospital. Complications from the flu can develop, including a bacterial "superinfection", or worse.

Certain people are a greater risk of serious flu-related complications. Children, those with chronic health conditions and those 65 years or older are susceptible to worsening conditions. 

What To Do At Home

It comes down to the basics.

Fluids are essential to avoiding the emergency room. Clear liquids are the best. Broth or soup is also suggested.

Create a sick room, to avoid spreading the illness with anyone else in your household. The Centers for Disease Control said to stay home for at least 24 hours. Hey, it's time to catch up on Netflix anyway, right?

To fight the fever, take Tylenol, ibuprofen or other over-the-counter medications. Honey and gargling salt water soothes the throat.

Wash your linens, utensils and shared spaces (such as tables and countertops) quickly after recovering.

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