Emergency entrance sign. Photo courtesy of Pixabay.
Emergency entrance sign. Photo courtesy of Pixabay.

Flu Season is Here: When Should You Go to the Emergency Room?

Author: Public Health Department
Date: Friday, January 5, 2018 9:29 AM

In most cases of the flu, it's most effective and comfortable to recover on your own at home.


The County of San Luis Obispo Public Health Department encourages residents to think twice before seeking emergency medical treatment for the flu. In most cases of the flu, it's most effective and most comfortable to recover on your own at home. This guidance is based on several factors:

Emergency medical servicesincluding emergency rooms and ambulancesare nearing capacity across SLO County. These emergency resources are here for people who are very sick or injured and need immediate treatment for potentially life-threatening conditions. Using emergency resources to seek treatment for regular cases of flu detracts from our community's ability to provide critical medical care to those who need it most.

Otherwise healthy patients are likely to encounter long waits as severely ill and injured patients are seen first. You probably don't want to spend hours in the waiting room to see the doctor only to be told in most cases to rest, hydrate and take fever-relieving medication. Arriving at the hospital by ambulance does not change this.

Visits to the hospital may expose patients and family to other contagious illnesses. By visiting the hospital, you will likely encounter different strains of the flu and other illnesses. This increases your risk of becoming even sicker. It also exposes those who accompany you to these additional illnesses.

Some people are especially at risk for serious complications from the flu. These people should be especially alert and seek specific treatment against the flu virus from their regular doctor’s office, or, if a primary care provider is not available, an urgent care center. These groups of people include:

  • Children younger than 2 years
  • Adults aged 65 years and older
  • People with chronic lung, heart, kidney, liver, blood, and metabolic disorders or neurologic and neurodevelopment conditions
  • People with immunosuppression, caused by medications or by HIV infection
  • Women who are pregnant or postpartum (within 2 weeks after delivery)
  • People younger than 19 years who are receiving long-term aspirin therapy
  • People of American Indian/Alaska Native descent
  • People with extreme obesity (i.e., body-mass index is equal to or greater than 40)
  • Residents of nursing homes and other long-term care facilities

Flu can be dangerous and even healthy people can sometimes experience serious complications. If you experience any of these symptoms when you have the flu, seek medical attention immediately:

  • Difficulty breathing (more than regular congestion)
  • Shortness of breath
  • Chest pain or severe abdominal pain
  • Confusion
  • Sudden dizziness
  • Severe vomiting or vomiting that won't stop

What if you are still concerned?

If you do not experience these symptoms and are not in these high-risk groups but are concerned about flu-like symptoms, call your regular healthcare provider. If you do not have a regular healthcare provider, call or visit your local urgent care center.  

For more information and FAQs, check out Flu Season in SLO County: What You Need to Know.