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Is It “Just the Flu”? Time for Urgent Care?

Is it really “just the flu”? The “flu” is often used as a nearly generic term for being sick. But “It’s just the flu,” is used to dismiss a wide range of symptoms that may or may not actually be caused by an influenza virus. By brushing them off, you could be assuming you have the flu when it could be something more serious, setting yourself up to be sicker, for longer, than necessary.

Common self-diagnoses that are frequently wrong include:

  • Sore throat: The flu sometimes includes a sore throat, but it’s also a common symptom of strep throat, mononucleosis, tonsillitis, an upper respiratory virus and COVID-19. By skipping a trip to SouthStar Urgent Care you risk feeling increasingly worse over time. “It’s a good idea to have a medical professional check on a very sore throat,” says Frank Garber, NP. “If it’s a bacterial infection, the sooner you can address it, the better. In fact, you’re likely to feel better in 24 to 48 hours if that’s the case. Left untreated, you’re going to feel worse and worse — and accidentally get others sick, too.”
  • Coughing: There are many types of coughs. The flu causes a dry cough that doesn’t typically produce mucus, but so does COVID-19. Other viruses can bring this on as well, as can allergies. Consider other symptoms when evaluating a cough. If your cough isn’t going away, or gets worse, it’s best to visit us for testing to determine its cause and guide the appropriate treatment.
  • High, persistent fever: The flu will usually come with an elevated temperature in the range of 99-101 degrees. If you have a fever above 101 for more than a couple of days, or if you can’t keep the fever low with medication (visit our blog for guidance), it’s probably worth a visit to urgent care. “If nothing else, we can check on hydration levels and rule out other illness, like pneumonia,” says Frank.
  • Stomach issues: Children will sometimes have diarrhea if they have the flu, but it comes with other symptoms and can be associated with fever reducers. Typically, diarrhea and vomiting are not flu symptoms. Common causes include the norovirus, rotavirus, COVID-19 and various bacterial infections. If stomach issues persist or are severe, head to SouthStar Urgent Care to determine the cause — before dehydration makes things worse.
  • Breathing problems: The flu is not directly associated with breathing problems, although COVID-19 is. If you’re experiencing shortness of breath, you should head to urgent care. If symptoms are seriously or suddenly restricting your breathing, go to the emergency department of your local hospital or call 911.
  • Dizziness: Feeling dizzy is often associated with the flu but if you also have a sudden, severe headache, chest pain or difficulty breathing, get emergency medical care. Without those symptoms dizziness is usually related to dehydration or low blood sugar. If it persists even after you’ve taken electrolytes through a drink like Pedialyte or Gatorade, head to urgent care.

    Not seeing your symptoms here? Check out this useful comparison chart from the NIH.

When to get help:

If your symptoms don’t fully line up with the flu, or are also symptoms of other common fall and winter illnesses, an urgent care visit can be well worth your time. All SouthStar clinics are now equipped with advanced molecular testing capabilities to quickly and accurately determine if your “flu” is really the flu, or something else. With more accurate, same-day test results from a PCR test machine, we are better able to pinpoint the cause of your symptoms, so you feel better faster, avoid complications and halt the spread of sickness. Remember, if you’re unsure, it’s better to see a medical professional sooner than later. Find a clinic near you here.

Pssst. A final thought: “Urgent care” isn’t just for emergencies. (In fact, life-threatening situations always call for 911 or the emergency department.) More and more, urgent care clinics are serving as people’s go-to for same-day care. You don’t have to be desperately sick for it to be ‘worth’ coming in for care.

Reviewed By: Frank Garber Jr., APRN, FNP-C


Disclaimer: If you are in a situation that might be life-threatening, go straight to the emergency room or call 911. Situations like this include: Shortness of breath or breathing problems. Seizures or ‘blackouts’. Sudden vision problems. Confusion or dizziness. Heavy bleeding. Possible breaks that appear to be deformed or blue, or that include bleeding. Serious burns. The inability to speak or move. Head and neck injuries.