Dr. MJ Bazos MD,
How can I tell if I have a cold or
Colds and the flu (influenza) cause many of the
same symptoms. But a cold is generally mild, while the flu tends to be more
Ways to treat your cold/flu
You can help yourself feel better by treating
your symptoms while your body fights off the virus.
- Stay home and rest, especially while you have a
- Stop smoking and avoid secondhand smoke.
- Drink plenty of fluids like water, fruit juices
and clear soups.
- Don’t drink alcohol.
- Gargle with warm salt water a few times a day to
relieve a sore throat. Throat sprays or lozenges may also help relieve the pain.
- Use salt water (saline) nose drops to help loosen
mucus and moisten the tender skin in your nose.
What’s in over-the-counter
These ingredients are found in many cold/flu
medicines. Read labels carefully. If you have questions, talk to your doctor or
- Analgesics relieve aches and pains and
reduce fever. Examples: acetaminophen, aspirin, ibuprofen, ketoprofen and
naproxen. Warning: Children and teenagers shouldn’t be given aspirin.
- Antitussives tell your brain to stop
coughing. Example: dextromethorphan. Don’t take an antitussive if
you’re coughing up mucus.
- Expectorants help thin mucus so it can be
coughed up more easily. Example: guaifenesin.
- Oral decongestants shrink the passages in
the nose and reduce congestion. Examples: phenylephrine and pseudoephedrine.
Note: Before you take a decongestant, check the label for a drug called
phenylpropanolamine, or PPA. The U.S. Food and Drug Administration recently
recalled this drug for safety reasons. If a medicine contains PPA, don’t
A cold often starts with feeling tired,
sneezing, coughing and having a runny nose. You may not have a fever or you may
run a low fever — just 1 or 2 degrees higher than usual. You may also have
muscle aches, a scratchy or sore throat, watery eyes and a
The flu starts suddenly and hits hard.
You’ll probably feel weak and tired, and have a fever, dry cough, a runny
nose, chills, muscle aches, severe headache, eye pain and a sore
What causes colds and the
Viruses. Over 100 different viruses can cause
colds. There aren’t as many viruses that cause the flu. That’s why
there’s a shot to help prevent the flu but not colds.
No medicine can cure a cold or the flu.
Antibiotics don’t work against viruses. Some medicines can help relieve
some of your cold or flu symptoms. Check with your doctor before giving any
medicine to children. Many cold and flu products are available without a
prescription. See the box to the right for a guide to the common ingredients in
Some prescription medicines can help flu
symptoms. These medicines may help reduce the severity of symptoms if they are
started soon after you begin to get sick. These medicines come as pills or as an
inhaler. The inhaled type may cause problems for some people with asthma or
chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD).
Should I call my
In most cases, you don’t need to see your
doctor when you have a cold or the flu. However, call your doctor if you have
any of the following:
- A cold that lasts for more than 10 days.
- Earache or drainage from your ear.
- Severe pain in your face or forehead.
- Temperature above 102°F.
- Shortness of breath.
- Hoarseness, sore throat or a cough that
won’t go away.