What to Do (and What Not to Do) at the First Signs of the Flu

Health Conditions

What to Do (and What Not to Do) at the First Signs of the Flu

The Flu.Cold & Flu Season
Jennifer Hadley
By Jennifer Hadley
Sept 19, 2017 - Updated Oct 12, 2020
Carmel Fitzgerald, NP
Medically Reviewed ByCarmel Fitzgerald, NP
What to Do (and What Not to Do) at the First Signs of the Flu

The CDC estimates that each year millions of Americans will be infected with the flu, resulting in hundreds of thousands of hospitalizations. Because the flu sickens so many, you need to know what to do, and what not to do at the first signs of flu.

Recognizing Signs of the Flu

The flu is a respiratory illness that is caused by the influenza virus. When you get the flu, your symptoms will come on suddenly, usually overnight. These symptoms can include the following:

  • Aches and pains throughout the body
  • Cough
  • Excessive fatigue and tiredness
  • Fever
  • Headache
  • Runny or stuffy nose
  • Sore Throat

Additionally, some people may experience symptoms of nausea, causing vomiting, or diarrhea.

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What to Do at First Signs of the Flu

If you awaken to symptoms of the flu, there are certain things you should do immediately, to feel better, expedite your recovery, and prevent the spread of the flu to others.

Cancel Social Engagements

At the first sign of the flu, it’s important to stay home from work, cancel all social engagements, and keep your distance from others. The flu is spread from person to person through droplets in the air, so it’s important to do your part to keep from spreading the flu by staying away from others.

Drink Plenty of Fluids

Staying hydrated gives your immune system the best chance to fight off the virus. Stick with non-caffeinated beverages such as water, sugar-free drinks, and low-sugar sports drinks. Hot decaffeinated tea with lemon can provide hydration while also helping to soothe a cough, sore throat, or congestion.


Your body needs rest to fight off the flu. Try to go to bed early, and avoid exerting much energy, as your body needs that energy to overcome this viral infection.

Try OTC Medications to Help Alleviate Symptoms

Over-the-counter pain relievers can help reduce your fever and make body aches more manageable. If you’re experiencing sinus pressure and congestion, OTC medications may also help to lessen the severity of the symptoms.

Wash Your Hands Frequently

Washing your hands frequently can help prevent the spread of flu to others in your house.
You should aim for at least 20 seconds of scrubbing with soap and water.

What Not to Do at First Signs of the Flu

Just as there are smart actions to take at the first signs of flu, there are also things you should not do if you have symptoms of the flu. Here is a list of what not to do at the first signs of the flu.

Don’t Drink Caffeine

Caffeinated beverages may contribute to dehydration, by leaching fluid from your body. If you have the flu, your body needs to be well-hydrated, so stick to low-sugar, caffeine-free beverages.

Don’t Request an Antibiotic

The flu is caused by a virus, so an antibiotic (which is used to treat bacterial infections), won’t help your flu symptoms. Instead, consider a pain-reliever or fever-reducing medication to help with symptoms.

Don’t Skip Meals

At the first signs of the flu, you may not have much of an appetite, but you shouldn’t skip meals. Try to eat small veggie-based and fruit-based meals, which are rich in the nutrients your body needs to fight off the infection.

Don’t Smoke

The flu is a respiratory illness, meaning it affects your lungs. Smoking further irritates your lungs, which can make your flu symptoms worse. If you are sick with the flu, avoid smoking or vaping (and then don’t resume once you get better!).

Don’t Shake Hands or Touch People

Avoiding touching others if you have signs of the flu. Much like COVID-19, the flu is spread via person to person, so avoid hugs, handshakes, or touching others at all if you have signs of the flu.

Don’t Leave the House if You Have a Fever

Until you’ve been free of a fever for 24 hours, you shouldn’t leave the house, according to the CDC. If you must leave the house to receive medical care, wear a face mask, and keep your distance from others to prevent spreading the flu.

Don’t Go to the Emergency Room

You should not go to the emergency at the first sign of the flu. Instead, contact your healthcare provider for guidance or to set up a telehealth appointment. You can easily spread the flu to others who are at high risk for complications of the flu in the ER.

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When to See a Doctor

This year's flu season is coinciding with the COVID-19 pandemic, so if you have flu symptoms, it’s smart to contact your healthcare provider right away. You may be routed to a COVID-19 testing station, to confirm you haven’t contracted the novel coronavirus. It is especially important to contact your healthcare provider if you are at high risk for complications of the flu, have symptoms that seem to go away, but then get worse, or if the symptoms are very severe.

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During a telemedicine appointment, if your healthcare provider determines that you have the flu, you may be prescribed antiviral medication such as generic Tamiflu (oseltamivir phosphate) or Xofluza. Both are designed to shorten the recovery period from the flu and to reduce the severity of flu symptoms. Be sure to check RxSaver for coupons, as you may be able to save up to 85% on these flu medications.

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Jennifer Hadley

Jennifer Hadley

Jen Hadley is a freelance writer and journalist based in Los Angeles, who writes extensively about the medical, legal, health care, and consumer products industries. Jen is a regular contributor to RxSaver.

Carmel Fitzgerald, NP

Carmel Fitzgerald, NP

Carmel Fitzgerald, NP, is a seasoned adult health nurse practitioner in Boston, MA with over 30 years of experience. Most recently, she was recruited to serve as the coordinator for the new Boston Medical Center Lung Cancer Screening Program. Carmel is a contributing author to numerous medical research publications. She is a member of the Massachusetts Coalition of Nurse Practitioners, the American Heart Association and the Association for the Treatment of Tobacco Use and Dependence. She completed her BSN at the University of Massachusetts and MSN at Northeastern University both with honors.

The information on this site is generalized and is not medical advice. It is intended to supplement, not substitute for, the expertise and judgment of your healthcare professional. Always seek the advice of your healthcare professional with any questions you may have regarding a medical condition. Never disregard seeking advice or delay in seeking treatment because of something you have read on our site. RxSaver makes no warranty as to the accuracy, reliability or completeness of this information.

If you are in crisis or you think you may have a medical emergency, call your doctor or 911 immediately.