Tulane Lakeside Hospital - November 22, 2016

With so many people affected by the common cold and the flu, it may seem impossible to avoid catching one, or both. But you can greatly reduce your chances. Arm yourself with the following information about the common cold and the flu and don't be the next victim.

Is it a cold or the flu?

Symptom Cold Flu
Fever Sometimes Common, high (100-102°F), lasts three to four days
Headache Sometimes Common
General aches, pains Sometimes, slight Common, often severe
Fatigue, weakness Sometimes Common, can last up to 2-3 weeks
Extreme exhaustion Never Common; at the beginning of the illness
Stuffy nose Common Sometimes
Sneezing Common Sometimes
Sore throat Common Sometimes
Chest discomfort, cough Common, mild to moderate hacking cough Common, can become severe

Preventing and Treating a Cold

Colds are extremely contagious and are transmitted by droplets of fluid that contain the cold virus. These droplets become airborne when an infected person sneezes, coughs or speaks. You contaminate yourself by inhaling these droplets or touching a surface that the viruses have landed on and then touching your eyes or nose. To prevent getting a cold, take these simple precautions:

  • Avoid close contact with people who have a cold
  • Wash your hands often
  • Do not touch your nose, eyes or mouth

Antibiotics will not cure a cold. In fact, nothing can cure a cold except time. However, self-care may help you reduce your discomfort. You may try over-the-counter (OTC) medications to relieve aches and fever or decrease congestion. You should also stay hydrated, avoid alcohol and smoke, get plenty of rest and possibly use a humidifier.

Preventing and Treating the Flu

A flu shot can lower your chance of getting the flu. Hand washing can also prevent the flu, or any flu-like illness. Even if someone in your home has the flu, you can reduce your risk of getting sick by washing your hands. If soap and water are not available, hand sanitizers are the second-best choice.

Most importantly, when you have the flu, you need rest. And until your symptoms are gone, it is a good idea to not go back to your full activity level. You also need plenty of fluids and should avoid contact with others for at least 24 hours after your fever is gone.

When to Call the Doctor

You should contact your doctor if you are at high risk for complications or if you experience any of the following difficulties:

  • Your symptoms get worse
  • Your symptoms last longer than two weeks
  • After you feel better, you develop signs of a more serious problem like nausea, vomiting, high fever, shaking chills, chest pain or coughing with a thick mucus
  • Shortness of breath
  • Lightheadedness
  • Bluish coloring of the skin or lips
  • Chest pain or pressure when breathing