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Is It a Cold? Or Is It the Flu? And What Do You Do?
Is It A Cold or the Flu?
|Fever||Rare||Usual, high (100ºF-102°F [37.8ºC-38.8°C]) last 3-4 days|
|General aches, pains||Slight||Usual; often severe|
|Fatigue, weakness||Sometimes||Usual, can last up to 2-3 weeks|
|Extreme exhaustion||Never||Usual; at the beginning of the illness|
|Chest discomfort, cough||Mild to moderate, hacking cough||Common; can become severe|
Facts About the Common Cold
Preventing a Cold
- Avoid close contact with people who have a cold.
- Wash your hands often.
- Do not touch your nose, eyes, or mouth. This will help you avoid infecting yourself with germs you may have picked up.
- Covering your nose and mouth with a tissue when you cough or sneeze. Throw the tissue away. If you do not have a tissue handy then put your arm up over your face and sneeze into your elbow. Sneezing onto your hands increases your likelihood of spreading the cold to others.
- Wash your hands often.
- Limit close contact with others when you are sick.
Treating a Cold
Take certain over-the-counter (OTC) medications. For example, acetaminophen helps to relieve aches and fever, while decongestants and antihistamines may combat congestion. Use caution, though, when giving these medications to children.
- The Food and Drug Administration (FDA) recommends that OTC cough and cold products should not be used to treat infants or children less than two years old and supports not using them in children less than four years old. Rare but serious side effects have been reported, including rapid heart rates, convulsions, decreased levels of consciousness, and death. OTC cough and cold products include decongestants, expectorants, antihistamines, and cough suppressants. The FDA is still reviewing data concerning the safety of these products in children aged 2-11 years. There have been serious side effects reported in this age group as well.
- Drink at plenty of water every day. This will help keep you hydrated.
- Avoid alcohol as it promotes dehydration.
- Avoid smoke. It irritates an already sore throat and intensifies a cough.
- Get plenty of rest.
- Use a humidifier—an electric device that puts moisture into the air.
Facts About the Flu
Preventing the Flu
Treating the Flu
- Zanamivir—this drug may worsen asthma or chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD)
When to Call the Doctor
- Your symptoms get worse
- Your symptoms longer than two weeks
After you feel better, you develop signs of a more serious problem. These include:
- High fever
- Shaking chills
- Chest pain
- Coughing with a thick mucus
- Shortness of breath
- New or worsening lightheadedness
- Bluish coloring of the lips
- Chest pain or pressure when breathing
National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases http://www.niaid.nih.gov
Health Canada http://www.hc-sc.gc.ca
Public Health Agency of Canada http://www.phac-aspc.gc.ca
Baker CJ, Pickerling LK, Chilton L, et al; Advisory Committee on Immunization Practices. Recommended adult immunization schedule: United States, 2011. Ann Intern Med. 1 Feb 2011. 154(3):168-173.
Birth-18 Years & "Catch-up" Immunization Schedules—United States, 2013. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention website. Available at: http://www.cdc.gov/vaccines/schedules/hcp/child-adolescent.html . Updated January 29, 2013. Accessed September 27, 2013.
Influenza in adults. EBSCO DynaMed website. Available at: https://dynamed.ebscohost.com/about/about-us . Updated September 15, 2013. Accessed September 27, 2013.
Is it a cold or the flu? National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases website. Available at: http://www.niaid.nih.gov/topics/Flu/Pages/coldOrFlu.aspx . Accessed Accessed September 27, 2013.
Upper respiratory infection (URI). EBSCO DynaMed website. Available at: https://dynamed.ebscohost.com/about/about-us . Updated September 3, 2013. Accessed September 27, 2013.
1/30/2008 DynaMed's Systematic Literature Surveillance https://dynamed.ebscohost.com/about/about-us : Public health advisory: Nonprescription cough and cold medicine use in children—FDA recommends that over-the-counter (OTC) cough and cold products not be used for infants and children under 2 years of age. US Food and Drug Administration website.
11/9/2009 DynaMed's Systematic Literature Surveillance https://dynamed.ebscohost.com/about/about-us : Cowling BJ, Chan KH, Fang VJ, et al. Facemasks and hand hygiene to prevent influenza transmission in households: a cluster randomized trial. Ann Intern Med. 2009;151(7):437-446.
- Reviewer: Michael Woods, MD
- Review Date: 09/2013
- Update Date: 09/27/2013