Battling the Cold and Flu

Is it a Cold or the Flu?

The cold and flu are contagious viral infections of the throat, nose, and lungs. The common cold and flu have similar symptoms; however, generally the symptoms of a cold are milder than the flu. Both a cold and flu may take a few days to less than two weeks for recovery. The flu can cause serious health problems that require hospitalization, especially for very young children, the elderly, pregnant women, and individuals with medical conditions.

Cold Symptoms usually appear slowly and can include: Flu Symptoms usually occur suddenly and can include:
  • Mild Fever
  • Runny or Stuffy Nose (often with green or yellow colored discharge)
  • Sore Throat
  • Cough
  • Sneeze
  • Fatigue
  • Muscle Aches
  • Headache
  • High Fever
  • Runny or Stuffy Nose
  • Nausea, Vomiting, and/or Diarrhea
  • Chills and Sweats
  • Fatigue
  • Muscle Aches, especially in your back, arms and legs
  • Cough
  • Headache
  • Loss of Appetite

When to Call the Doctor

If you have any concerns about your health, do not hesitate to contact a doctor. The following are some indicators that should alert you to be evaluated by a healthcare professional:

In children:

  • High fever (above 102°F), or a fever that lasts for more than 3 days
  • Symptoms that last for more than 10 days
  • Trouble breathing
  • Symptoms that worsen
  • Vomiting or abdominal pain

In adults:

  • A high, prolonged fever (above 102°F) with fatigue and body aches
  • Symptoms that last for more than 10 days or that increase in severity
  • Trouble breathing
  • Pain or pressure in the chest
  • Severe or persistent vomiting
  • Very swollen glands in the neck or jaw

For the flu, your doctor will probably recommend ways to alleviate your symptoms as your body fights the virus. In severe cases, your doctor may prescribe an antiviral medication, which can shorten the length of time that you are sick with the flu, and which may help alleviate some symptoms. These medicines come as pills, syrup, or in an inhaler.

Treating Your Symptoms

There’s no cure for the cold or flu; however, you can treat your symptoms as your body fights off the virus.

For children:

  • Encourage naps and rest.
  • Keep your child hydrated with plenty of fluids — breast milk or formula for babies; water, juice, ice pops, soft fruits, and cool drinks for older kids (avoid caffeine).
  • Pain relievers such as acetaminophen or ibuprofen can reduce fevers, headaches, muscle aches, and sore throats. Be sure you are giving your child the correct dosage and medication according to his or her age and weight.
  • Saline drops, bulb syringe, and a humidifier can help to keep nasal passages clear.

For adults:

  • Get plenty of rest.
  • Take acetaminophen, ibuprofen, or over-the-counter cold medications.
  • Drink lots of fluids.
  • Throat sprays, gargling with salt water, or lozenges may help relieve a sore throat.
  • Use saline nose drops and a humidifier to help loosen mucus.

How the Cold and Flu Spreads

Flu and cold viruses spread easily when small droplets of the saliva of an infected person come in contact with the mouths, eyes, or noses of people nearby. This can happen when an infected person talks, coughs, sneezes, or shares food or beverages with someone else. Less often, the flu can spread by touching an object with flu virus on it, such as a doorknob, and then touching your own eyes, nose, or mouth. The flu can be spread to others from one day before they have symptoms to several days after they get sick. Since it is extremely contagious, people who have the flu should stay home until the doctor recommends returning to school or work.

Preventing the Cold and Flu

The best way to protect against the flu is by getting the flu vaccine. Doctors recommend that all adults and children 6 months of age and older get the vaccine every year. If you get the flu vaccine while you are pregnant, you may protect your child from the flu for their first six months of life.

Other measures you can take to protect yourself from the cold and flu virus include:

  1. Keep your immune system strong by eating healthy, exercising, and getting enough sleep.
  2. Sanitize your hands frequently and avoid touching your eyes, nose, or mouth unless your hands are clean.
  3. Sterilize common surfaces such as table and counter tops, your child’s toys, door handles and bathroom facilities, with anti-bacterial disinfectant. This can help stop the spread of germs.


Questions to Ask Your Doctor:

Q: How long should I stay home from work or school?

A: _______________________________

Q: Are there any medications you recommend?

A: _______________________________

Q: When should I contact you?

A: _______________________________

Q: What medicines are safe for my child and what are the appropriate dosages?

A: _______________________________


Centers for Disease Control and Prevention:
To learn more about the flu vaccine, talk to your doctor, call 1-800-CDC-INFO or visit
The National Library of Medicine:
America’s Best Hospitals for Emergency Care: