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person washing hands

1. Wash Your Hands

Soap 'em up often and scrub well. It's a key way to lower your odds of getting a cold or the flu. You pick up germs on your fingers and can get them in your mouth or eyes. Many viruses spread that way.

close up of flu shot and syringe

2. Get Your Flu Shot

You may think of the flu as only a minor problem, but it can be very serious. You may be in bed for days. The flu can even be dangerous, especially for young children, older adults, and pregnant women. One little shot may pay off for you and your family. It’s a myth that the flu vaccine can give you the flu.

close up of thermometer

3. Get Ready!

Make sure you have the supplies you need to battle germs. Stock up on medicines like pain relievers or decongestants. Don’t forget tissues, soap, and hand sanitizer. Check to see if your thermometer works, too. At the supermarket, load up on fluids, herbal tea, and simple comfort foods like chicken soup.

mom checking daughters temperature

4. Pay Attention to Symptoms

Cold or flu? There's no surefire way to tell the symptoms apart. Even your doctor may not be sure which one you have without testing.

Usually, colds are milder. You might have a runny or stuffy nose.

The flu is usually more severe and comes on suddenly.It will probably knock you off your feet for a few days. Fever, body aches, and exhaustion are more common with it.

sick woman in bed and medicine

5. Get the Right Medicine

You can choose from a lot of cold and flu remedies. Combination medications package several solutions in one pill -- like a decongestant, cough suppressant, and a painkiller. They can be convenient, but they might not be your best bet if you don’t have all of the symptoms they treat. Instead, choose a medicine to treat only your specific symptom. Read labels closely, and don't take more than one medicine with the same ingredient.

close up of white pills

6. Skip the Antibiotics

Viruses cause colds and flu. Antibiotics work only with bacterial infections, so they won’t help you feel better. And if you use them when you don’t need them, dangerous germs that are resistant to drugs can breed.

man with cold on couch

7. Stay Home if You're Sick

Take time off. If you push yourself to work instead of rest, your recovery may be much harder. Your cold could last longer, and you could also spread germs to other people.

colorful straws in cups

8. Use Throwaways to Curb Germs

When someone in your home is sick, switch to disposable products in your bathroom until they get better. It's a simple way to stop the spread of germs among family members. Replace cloth hand towels with paper ones, and bring in paper or plastic cups.

raw honey dripping from wooden spoon

9. Look Into Natural Treatments

Try a spoonful of honey to soothe your cough. It may work as well as a drugstore cough syrup. Don’t give honey to kids under age 1 year, though -- it’s not safe for them.

Also, vitamin C may cut down on how long your cold lasts and how bad you feel.  And some studies show that probiotics may help prevent colds. But more research is needed.

pink flower on top of tea cup

10. Drink Extra Fluids

It will help thin mucus, drain your sinuses, and relieve a stuffy nose. Water, broth, and sports drinks are good choices. Alcohol isn't. Hot drinks like herbal tea will also warm your airways, helping relieve congestion.

If your sick kids don’t drink enough, offer them Popsicles. Or let them drink fluids with a spoon or a straw.

woman holding blister pack of capsules

11. Ask About Antiviral Meds

No drugs can cure the flu, but some may help you get better faster. Prescription antiviral drugs can dull the symptoms and help you recover. The catch: It’s best to take them within 48 hours of your first symptoms.

Talk to your doctor to find out more. One of these medicines may be right for you if you’re at high risk of complications from the flu.