January 31, 2024

The flu affects an average of 8% of people in the U.S. every year.1 Everyone experiences the flu differently. Some people may have mild symptoms and get over their illness within a few days, while others may have more severe symptoms that last a few weeks.

Being familiar with every stage of the flu can help you know what to expect in the event you get sick. Here’s a breakdown of all the stages of the flu and how to contact Healthcare Associates of Texas if you need help treating your symptoms.


Exposure to the virus

Initially, you are exposed to the flu virus. The flu virus spreads when an infected person sneezes, talks, or coughs, and droplets from these actions land on another person. You can also get the flu by touching a surface contaminated with the virus and then touching your nose, mouth, or eyes.1

The incubation period

The incubation of the flu can take 2-3 days. During the incubation period, you will likely be unaware that the virus is in your body. However, you may be highly contagious. If you think you may have been exposed to the flu virus, the best thing you can do is wash your hands frequently and distance yourself from others.1

Day 1: When you start feeling sick

Day 1 is typically when you start experiencing flu symptoms. Your body has recognized that it has been infected with the flu and may start releasing antibodies to fight the virus. This process can trigger inflammation, which contributes to common flu symptoms, including fever and headache.

You may feel fine when you wake up on day 1, but symptoms can progress as the day goes on. Other symptoms you may feel during this time are chills, body aches, cough, weakness, and sore throat.1 If you think you have the flu, try to relax and take it easy, and use over-the-counter (OTC) pain or flu medicines to reduce your symptoms.

If you are living with a chronic condition such as heart disease or diabetes, ask your doctor about a prescription for flu antiviral drugs that can reduce your risk for complications from the flu. These medications, such as zanamivir and peramivir, can reduce your symptoms and help you recover more quickly.2


Days 2 to 3: When symptoms peak

Flu symptoms usually peak and are at their worst on days 2 and 3. You may not feel well enough to get out of bed and should stay home from work or school to recover and avoid spreading the virus to others.3

Common flu symptoms you may experience during this time are:

  • Fever and chills
  • Headache
  • Sore throat
  • Cough
  • Runny or stuffy nose
  • Body aches
  • Tiredness and weakness
  • Vomiting
  • Diarrhea

The first three days of the flu are when you are the most contagious. The CDC suggests isolating yourself from others for four to five days after your symptoms begin. It also recommends staying home for at least 24 hours after your fever has gone away.3

On days 2 and 3, get as much rest and sleep as possible to help your body heal and recover. Also, drink plenty of fluids to stay hydrated. Fever, vomiting, and diarrhea during the flu can increase your risk for dehydration.

Fluids you should drink during the flu include water, herbal teas, 100% fruit juices, and drinks with electrolytes.4 If you have a stuffy nose, run a humidifier in your bedroom to help you breathe more easily.

Many times, the flu will run its natural course and can be managed with lots of rest. You do not necessarily need medication unless you are at high risk for complications from the flu. However, OTC flu medicines can help reduce your symptoms.

Here are tips to follow when buying OTC medicines for the flu:

  • Confirm that the medicine is for the flu and can treat your specific flu symptoms.
  • Review the medicine’s possible side effects.
  • Make sure the medicine will not interact with other medications you are using.
  • Confirm the medicine is safe to use with your chronic condition, if applicable.
  • Ask your doctor if the medicine is safe for you to take if you are unsure.


Days 4 to 5: When you start feeling better

On days 4 and 5 of the flu, your symptoms may start going away, and you’ll feel much better than you did on days 2 and 3. However, you may still feel too weak to do anything but sleep and relax.

If you had a fever or body aches, they may have gone away by this point. If you had a dry cough, it may have progressed into a wet cough. This is because inflammation in the lungs and airway can lead to increased mucus production.5 Inflammation is normal and is your body’s way of fighting the flu.

Contact your doctor if you haven’t started feeling better by day five or if your symptoms went away but returned with a fever and worsened cough.4

Day 6 and beyond: When you feel more energetic and ready to resume activities

By day 6, you may feel significantly better and back to your normal self. You may be ready to resume some or most of your usual activities, such as cooking, shopping, working, and doing mild exercises.

Even so, try to keep your distance from others until all your symptoms have completely gone away. This can help reduce the spread of the flu in the event you are still contagious.1, 4

Also, try to avoid overdoing it on days 6 through 8, as your body may still need plenty of rest. It is normal to feel weak and tired for up to two weeks after your illness until you are fully recovered.


When to see a doctor

Contact your doctor or visit the emergency room right away if you experience any of the following symptoms during the flu:4, 6

  • Sudden dizziness
  • Confusion
  • Difficulty breathing
  • Shortness of breath
  • Pressure or pain in the chest or stomach
  • Severe or chronic vomiting
  • Problems with urinating
  • Worsening of chronic conditions

Your healthcare provider can evaluate your symptoms and conditions and discuss your next options. Your doctor can also talk to you about the benefits of getting an annual flu vaccine.

Request an appointment with Healthcare Associates of Texas today to receive treatment for any medical condition, including the flu. We offer a variety of primary care services, including wellness exams, screenings, and more.



  1. Key facts about Influenza (FLU). (2023, May 2). Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. https://www.cdc.gov/flu/about/keyfacts.htm
  2. What You Should Know About Flu Antiviral Drugs. (2022, December 15). Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. https://www.cdc.gov/flu/treatment/whatyoushould.htm
  3. Stay home when you are sick. (2020, August 21). Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. https://www.cdc.gov/flu/business/stay-home-when-sick.htm
  4. Treatment of Flu. (n.d.). U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs. https://www.prevention.va.gov/flu/treatment/index.asp
  5. Soliman, A. M., & Barreda, D. R. (2022). Acute inflammation in tissue healing. International Journal of Molecular Sciences, 24(1), 641. https://doi.org/10.3390/ijms24010641
  6. When to Get Medical Help for Flu Symptoms. (2023, November 28). Minnesota Department of Health. https://www.health.state.mn.us/diseases/flu/basics/flumedhelp.html#help

The information featured in this site is general in nature. The site provides health information designed to complement your personal health management. It does not provide medical advice or health services and is not meant to replace professional advice or imply coverage of specific clinical services or products. The inclusion of links to other web sites does not imply any endorsement of the material on such websites.

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Posted in: Infectious Diseases