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- Family Medicine
- Wellness Institute
February 22, 2017 • Family Medicine
The flu, or influenza, can affect people of all ages and tends to be more common during cold, winter months. Many cases of flu are mild and don’t require a doctor’s visit, but some symptoms can become serious enough that you’ll need medical attention.
Here are the basic causes and symptoms of influenza and how to recognize when it’s time to see your doctor.
While the flu is often described as similar to the common cold, the causes of a cold and the flu are very different. There are over 100 kinds of viruses that can cause the common cold, but the flu is caused by only three: influenza type A, B, and C.
The flu is very contagious and can be spread through basic contact or through the air. It often enters your body through the nose, eyes, and mouth. You can spread the flu for up to seven days after you start seeing symptoms, although young children can be contagious for even longer.
The flu is more common in winter, mostly because the virus can live longer and we spend more time indoors near other people. Your best prevention method against the flu is to wash your hands and keep yourself clean. Doctors also recommend getting a flu shot every year.
Some of the basic signs and symptoms that indicate you might be coming down with the flu include:
In most cases, these symptoms are mild and don’t necessarily warrant medical attention. Rest, staying hydrated, and over-the-counter medications or home remedies can help ease symptoms, but in other cases, symptoms can get severe and will require the help of your doctor.
There are a number of people who should be more careful if they notice any signs of flu symptoms. These are people at high risk of complications like pneumonia and sinus infections from the flu, and they should consider seeing a doctor even if they only have minor symptoms. If you’re part of any of these groups, you might need to take extra precautions:
For all people, there are also a few situations where you should consider seeing your doctor. These include:
Proper treatment of the flu is important, especially if you are at higher risk. Treating the flu at the right time can also decrease your risk of complications like pneumonia. If you or a loved one have severe flu symptoms or are in a high-risk group, speak to your doctor.
“What Causes the Flu?” WebMD. http://www.webmd.com/cold-and-flu/flu-guide/what-causes-flu-viruses
“Flu symptoms: Should I see my doctor?” The Mayo Clinic. http://www.mayoclinic.org/diseases-conditions/flu/expert-answers/flu-symptoms/faq-20057983
“When Should I See a Doctor for a Cold or Flu?” WebMD. http://www.webmd.com/cold-and-flu/cold-guide/when-see-doctor
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This information is not intended to replace the advice of a medical professional. You should always consult your doctor before making decisions about your health.