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When Does the Flu or Pneumonia Require an ER Visit?

November 30, 2017

As winter approaches, flu and pneumonia cases will begin to escalate. Due to the similar causes and symptoms, it can often be difficult to differentiate between the two illnesses. If a severe condition is not treated correctly, you may suffer complications down the road. So, when do these illnesses warrant a trip to the ER?

Common Symptoms:

You’re likely familiar with the symptoms of the flu, but it’s important to understand the differences between the flu and pneumonia to ensure you seek proper treatment.

If you have the flu, you may experience a rapid onset of the following symptoms:

  • High fever (101 degrees Fahrenheit or more) that lasts up to four days
  • Prominent headache
  • Moderate to severe muscle aches/pains
  • Prominent fatigue that can last up to four weeks
  • Feeling nauseated
  • Loss of appetite
  • Chills and sweats
  • Other symptoms often associated with colds, such as a stuffy or runny nose, a sore throat, or a dry, hacking cough

Here are some pneumonia symptoms to look for:

  • Extremely high fever (up to 105 degrees Fahrenheit) with quick onset
  • Severe chills and sweats (teeth chattering)
  • Chest pain or discomfort that may worsen when you cough
  • Dehydration
  • Loss of or absent appetite
  • Mild muscle aches and pains
  • Moist cough – may produce rust-colored phlegm or pus (could contain blood)

If you feel you have either of these conditions, it’s important to contact your primary care physician or visit an urgent care facility to prevent the illness from getting worse. If it is after hours, and you need to see a physician right away, visit the St. Vincent Neighborhood Hospital location nearest you.

When is it an Emergency?

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), regardless of which condition you fall ill to, if you feel the following symptoms, you may be facing a medical emergency1. Do not wait! Immediately seek medical attention at the nearest emergency room if you experience:

  • Shortness of breath
  • Severe dizziness
  • Confusion
  • Persistent vomiting
  • Severe chest pain
  • Severe headache
  • Difficulty breathing or rapid breathing
  • Bluish skin color

Additionally, some groups of people experience a greater threat of hospitalization or death from flu and pneumonia symptoms alone. The CDC states those with conditions like asthma, heart disease, or endocrine and kidney disorders should seek medical treatment immediately if they experience flu-like or pneumonia symptoms. For a complete list of medical conditions, please visit the resources for people at high risk of developing the flu and pneumonia on the CDC website.

Minutes matter when seconds count, so when you need closer care with shorter wait times, St. Vincent Neighborhood Hospital is here for you.


There are actions you can take to prevent the flu and pneumonia. Knowing the causes for each illness can help prevent emergencies down the road.

The flu starts with two viruses, Influenza A and B. These two viruses are more potent and spread quicker than the cold. Sometimes a person can unknowingly pass along the virus before experiencing any symptoms.

The first step in preventing the flu is to get your annual flu shot. In addition, remember to wash your hands and sanitize frequently2. Check out our previous post for more tips on how to stay healthy during cold and flu season.

Pneumonia can be caused by viruses, bacteria, or fungus and is contracted in the same way as the cold and flu. Usually your immune system can fight the common cold or flu and keeps the illness out of your lungs. Pneumonia happens when the infection moves down into your lungs, which then becomes a more physical threat to your body. The National Institute of Health (NIH) states that those with weaker immune systems, such as babies, the elderly and smokers, might be at a higher risk for pneumonia3.

Prevention starts with taking steps to boost your immune system. Healthy habits, such as eating fruits and vegetables, exercising regularly and not smoking can help. There are also recommended vaccines for children and adults over the age of 654.

If you have any questions, always check with your healthcare provider. And please remember, if you are experiencing a life-threating emergency, call 911.