Is It a Cold or the Flu? “Flu activity most commonly peaks in the United States between December and February,” according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). Fortunately, though, there are some steps that you can take to help protect yourself and your loved ones from cold and flu.
Get a flu shot – it’s not too late! It’s your best flu prevention strategy and it can reduce your chances of catching the flu and can lessen the severity of your symptoms.
Wash your hands before eating and don’t put your hands near your face or in your mouth.
If someone in your family has the flu, clean and disinfect surfaces that may be contaminated with germs.
Help your immune system fight off a cold or flu by eating a diet rich in fruits and vegetables, exercising moderately, managing stress and avoiding drugs, alcohol, and tobacco.
Stock the cabinets
“In preparation for the cold and flu season it’s advisable to stock up on some basic items for the home,” says Douglas W. Harley, DO, Cleveland Clinic Akron General primary care physician. “These can include a supply of facial tissues, cough drops/syrup, hydrating fluids such as water or sports drinks, and NSAIDs such as acetaminophen, ibuprofen or naproxen. These basic supplies will allow you to weather most of the symptoms the cold or the flu might throw at you this season. Preventative items such as vitamin C, Echinacea, and other over-the-counter vitamins may offer some added benefit in preventing the onset of a cold or the flu, however, the current medical literature is limited on their effectiveness.”
I’m sick, now what?
Since cold and flu are both viruses, antibiotics are not effective in treating either illness. The following items may help to reduce symptoms of cold and flu, though:
• Medications to relieve aches and fever
• Medications for congestion and nasal discharge
• Bed rest and increased intake of fluids
• Warm, salt water gargling for a sore throat
• Warm steam for congestion
Is it a cold or the flu?
Well, just how sick are you? Sometimes, the symptoms can be similar. The flu comes on suddenly and your symptoms are more intense – your fever is higher, your cough is more severe and you may experience strong aches, pains, and fatigue. Colds are typically milder than the flu and can linger for several days to several weeks. Below are some of the symptoms of a cold versus the flu.
Sneezing and/or a stuffy, runny nose
Mild, hacking cough
Scratchy, tickly or a sore throat
Clear nasal discharge
Achy muscles and bones or fatigue
Often-severe aches and pains
A headache (more common with flu than cold)
A cough, often becoming severe
Sometimes a sore throat
Several weeks of fatigue
When is “the flu” not the flu?
With the “stomach flu” or “24-hour flu,” severe bouts of vomiting and diarrhea, or gastroenteritis, can make you just as miserable as flu, but the viruses that trigger them are different. A stomach virus targets your intestines rather than your airways, which is where the flu virus attacks.
When should I see my doctor?
While a cold or flu often can be treated at home, more serious cases require a doctor’s care, especially for young children or the elderly who are more likely to develop complications. If you have symptoms of the flu and are in a high-risk group, or are very sick or worried about your illness, contact your healthcare provider.
For flu patients, antiviral medications, when started within the first two days of symptoms, may reduce how long you’ll have the flu and the severity of symptoms. If you suspect you have the flu, it’s important to be seen by a doctor as soon as possible in order to possibly benefit from antiviral medications.
Emergency rooms are for people who are very sick; the CDC recommends that you do not go to an ER if you are only mildly ill. If you or a family member are experiencing any of the below emergency warning signs, it may be time to visit an emergency room.
• Shortness of breath or difficulty breathing
• Pressure or pain in the chest
• Confusion, disorientation or fainting
• Severe or persistent vomiting
• Flu-like symptoms that improve but then return with fever and worse cough
Your primary care physician (PCP) is the best person to visit if you are sick since they know your health history. If you are unable to see your PCP, visit akrongeneral.org/flu for a complete list of Cleveland Clinic and Akron General locations that can provide prompt treatment. Through Cleveland Clinic Akron General’s expanded network, we’re sure to be where you need us.
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