5th December, 20193 min read

Flu-like symptoms: Should I see a doctor?

Last reviewed: 05/12/2019
Medically reviewed

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For most, the flu is a short-lived illness, but it can lead to serious health problems in others. In the US, the flu is responsible for an estimated 200,000 hospitalisations every year.

Most cases of flu don’t require a visit to the doctor, and the symptoms are best managed at home. However, some people are more prone to flu complications than others - complications that need medical treatment. This means that it’s not always obvious when you can take care of yourself at home and when you should see a doctor.

Do you know how to tell when it’s time to see a doctor for the flu? Read on to find out.

Symptoms you can manage at home

Common flu symptoms include:

  • a high temperature (fever) of 38C (100.4F) or above
  • feeling tired and weak
  • a headache
  • aches and pains in different parts of your body
  • a dry or chesty cough

If you’re generally healthy and don’t fit into a high-risk group for flu, these symptoms shouldn’t be cause for concern. It’s perfectly fine to stay at home and rest in bed while you recover. Try to keep yourself warm and drink plenty of fluids.

You can also take painkillers like paracetamol to help bring down your temperature and ease any aches and pains you may have. Speak to your pharmacist or doctor for further guidance on whether to use these medications and how to get and use them.

When you should see a doctor

Sometimes the flu can cause complications that require medical care.

See a doctor if you have:

  • symptoms that improve but then suddenly get worse
  • symptoms that don’t improve after 7 days
  • a cough that doesn’t improve or starts to produce thick mucus
  • pain concentrated in one area, such as your chest, sinuses or ear

Are you in a high-risk group?

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If you're in a high-risk group for the flu, you may be more vulnerable to health complications. See a doctor as soon as you notice symptoms. A doctor may recommend you take antiviral medication.

You may be in a high-risk group for the flu if you:

  • have a chronic condition like diabetes or serious condition like asthma or heart disease
  • have a disease of the kidney or liver
  • have a weakened immune system (which can be caused by many things including HIV and chemotherapy)
  • have a history of stroke or mini-stroke (transient ischaemic attack)
  • are aged 65 or over
  • are worried about the symptoms of your baby or child
  • are pregnant
  • are obese

Getting the flu vaccine every year is also recommended to prevent further episodes of the flu.

When to go to the emergency room

It’s possible to develop more severe symptoms from the flu. These symptoms require immediate medical attention. Go to the emergency department or call an ambulance if you:

  • have sudden chest pain
  • start to find breathing difficult
  • cough up blood

Do you need more guidance?

If you’re still not sure whether or not you should see a doctor, our Self-Assessment Tool can help you decide.

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Important: Our website provides useful information but is not a substitute for medical advice. You should always seek the advice of your doctor when making decisions about your health.