Most cases of the flu can be treated at home, but it's important to know when to call the doctor.

It’s Flu Season! How to Prevent It, How to Treat It

We’re in the thick of flu season, and everyone around you seems to be getting sick. What to do? Here’s what you need to know to stay healthy if you’re not sick, and take care of yourself – and your family – if you are.

What to Do When You’re Sick

When you have a cold or flu, you may start to feel better within a week, but symptoms can last up to 3 weeks. Here’s how to get well as speedily as possible:

  • Get plenty of rest.
  • Drink enough fluids.
  • Stay home until fever-free for 24 hours.
  • Consult with your doctor before using over-the-counter products if you take medication for other conditions.
  • Follow dosage instructions listed on the product.
  • Avoid cigarettes, or try to cut back. If you smoke, it can take longer to recover. If you’re thinking about quitting, we can help.

Protect Your Friends and Family

The last thing you want is to transmit your flu virus to those you love. Here’s how to keep it to yourself:

  • Limit contact with others.
  • Wash your hands with soap often.
  • Cough and sneeze into your elbow or a tissue.
  • Clean surfaces and other objects.

When to Call a Doctor

Many people think they need antiobiotics when they feel as sick as they do with the flu, but unfortunately antibiotics only work against bacteria, and won’t do anything to chase away the flu virus. That said, there are situations in which you need to call the doctor. Call the doctor when you:

Have a fever of 100.4°F or higher for 3 days or more.

Felt better then worse again.

It’s also okay to call your doctor when you’re worried or have questions; she’ll refer you to an advice nurse who can walk you through what to do.

When is it Serious?

Some situations are more serious and may require an immediate urgent care or emergency room visit. Call your doctor or emergency room now if:

  • You have a rash, stiff neck, or severe headache.
  • If you or your child has asthma, another lung conditions, or a heart problem, and has had a cough for 7 or more days.
  • If you or your child is having difficulty breathing.

Melanie Haiken writes about health, wellness and fitness for national magazines and websites. She specializes in discovering and reporting the latest research on diet, nutrition, fitness, weight loss and other health-related topics. Her award-winning stories have appeared in Fitness, Shape, Health, Forbes, and other respected magazines. She also contributes health stories to numerous Kaiser Permanente newsletters and other publications.