Cold or Flu?
Your survival guide for the sniffly, sneezy, achy, queasy season.
The runny nose, the scratchy throat, the truck-ran-over-me feeling. It must
be cold and flu season.
The tricky thing is knowing which one you have. The flu especially is
nothing to sneeze at. "People often don't realize the flu is a pretty
serious illness," Tracy Wimbush, MD, an emergency room doctor at
Massachusetts General Hospital in Boston, tells WebMD. Each year, 10% to 20% of
Americans succumb to it, more than 100,000 people are hospitalized for it, and
36,000 die from the flu and its complications. For elderly people, newborn
babies, and people with certain chronic illnesses, such as cancer or heart
problems, the flu and its complications can be life-threatening.
The cold, while less dangerous, can still make a person feel pretty
miserable. And there's a reason why it's often referred to as "common":
Each year, people living in the United States suffer 1 billion colds, according
to some estimates. In addition, more than 110 distinct viruses are known to
cause the common cold. That's why there isn't a cold vaccine -- it's just too
complicated to create.
We've spelled out the basics here to give you an idea of which nasty bug
you've picked up and how you can feel better, faster. We've also included the
best prevention tips around to help you remain cold- and flu-free this
Ill advice? Or real remedy?
- Starve a fever? Or is it a cold?
Treat both the same. What's most important is to drink more fluids than usual.
Avoid caffeinated drinks, which rob your system of fluids. And follow your
appetite: If you're not really hungry, try eating simple foods such as white
rice or broth. But if you feel like eating a steak, go for it!
- Does chicken soup or a hot toddy help?
Like many cold remedies, neither will drive a virus from your body. But they
can soothe your sore throat and help you sleep. Chicken soup can also clear
your nasal passages. Liquids help combat dehydration during illness, and hot
soup produces steam that can help break up nasal congestion and keep your nasal
passages moist. Many recipes for chicken soup also contain garlic, which has
antibiotic and antiviral properties.
- Are natural remedies effective?
- Zinc: About an equal number of studies say that zinc helps
-- or that it doesn't. For some people, zinc lozenges and nasal sprays may help
prevent and treat a cold and the flu.
- Echinacea: Scientific studies looking at this herbal
supplement, traditionally used to treat or prevent colds, reveal mixed results.
One shows that a certain type of echinacea formulation did not prevent or treat
colds in college students who were exposed to the common cold virus. But
studies that evaluate other formulations or other parts of the herb have shown
- Vitamin C: A recent scientific paper reviewing 65 years'
worth of studies found no evidence that vitamin C prevents colds in the
majority of people. However, one large study found that people who took a
vitamin C megadose-8 grams-on the first day of a cold shortened its
- Ginseng: Ginseng has long been used as a tonic or immune
stimulant for people recovering from chronic illnesses, and in traditional
Chinese medicine, it's used to restore health. Does ginseng help with a cold or
the flu? Maybe. In one small recent Canadian study, people taking North
American ginseng had fewer, milder, and shorter colds.
- Ginger: Studies of ginger show its ability to settle the
stomach and control nausea and vomiting. Among Ayurvedic practitioners in
India, it's long been prescribed as a digestive aid. In China and Japan, it's
used to treat headaches, colds, and nausea.