Is Your Cold Or Flu An Emergency?

cold flu

Cold and FluWHEN YOU’RE SICK, how can you tell if your cold or flu is severe enough to warrant a trip to your nearest emergency room?

Symptoms of flu and cold — such as cough, a fever, body aches, congestion, chills, or dehydration from vomiting — are no joke. For most people, these symptoms can be handled in your doctor’s office or at the nearest urgent care clinic.


Colds in particular rarely require an emergency room (ER) visit, unless they go untreated and develop into more serious conditions like pneumonia or bronchitis. Flu, on the other hand, sometimes might prompt you to visit your local ER.

Cold and flu symptoms can be similar. Both illnesses affect the respiratory system, making it easy for people to confuse one for the other. Here’s how you can tell the difference between a cold and the flu:

If you’ve got the flu, chances are it’s going to pop up out of nowhere. You’ll likely wake up one morning with a fever and body aches, feeling tired even though you’re sure you slept well the night before.

The average cold tends to come on slowly as symptoms build in their severity. Symptoms like fever, fatigue, and coughing usually aren’t as bad with a cold, and colds tend to also feature runny or congested noses.


While most flu symptoms like body aches and mild congestion and fever can easily be treated at home, certain symptoms are warning signs that you or your loved one should be seen immediately by a medical professional. Those symptoms include:

sudden dizziness or confusion

persistent vomiting

trouble breathing or unexplained shortness of breath

chest or abdominal pain or pressure

You should also visit the ER if your flu symptoms go away, but then come back with worsened severity—particularly your cough or fever.


Some individuals are at much higher risk of developing serious complications from the flu than others. Members of these high-risk groups should see a healthcare provider for any flu symptoms. If their symptoms are severe, they should visit the nearest ER. These groups include:

pregnant women

women who have given birth in the past two weeks

children, especially those under 2 years old

adults over 65

people whose body mass index is over 40

people with diabetes

anyone with a medical condition that compromises his or her immune system

Trips to the ER should be reserved for serious medical conditions, so if there is nothing worrisome about symptoms you or a loved one are experiencing, you’re probably better off staying at home. As with any medical condition, if you have concerns or questions, call your doctor’s office.

If your child needs to go the ER, you should know that Summit Healthcare has earned a certification as a Pediatric Prepared Emergency Care Hospital from the Arizona chapter of the American Academy of Pediatrics.

If your flu or cold isn’t severe enough to require a trip to the ER, visit your primary care physician. Don’t have one? Head to to find one near you.
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