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Cold, Flu, & Cough Health Center

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Cold or Flu?

Your survival guide for the sniffly, sneezy, achy, queasy season.

Is It a Cold or the Flu?

Symptoms Cold Flu
Fever Sometimes, usually mild Usual; high (100-102 F; occasionally higher, especially in young children); lasts 3 to 4 days
Headache Occasionally Common
General Aches, Pains Slight Usual; often severe
Fatigue, Weakness Sometimes Usual; can last 2 to 3 weeks
Extreme Exhaustion Never Usual; at the beginning of the illness
Stuffy Nose Common Sometimes
Sneezing Usual Sometimes
Sore Throat Common Sometimes
Chest Discomfort, Cough Mild to moderate; hacking cough Common; can become severe
Sinus congestion; middle ear infection Bronchitis; pneumonia; can be life-threatening
Wash your hands often; avoid close contact with anyone with a cold Annual vaccination; antiviral medicine - see your doctor
Antihistamines; decongestants; anti-inflammatory medicines All listed at left; plus antiviral drugs - see your doctor


Your Medicine Cabinet
Which over-the-counter products are right for you? That depends on your symptoms. Read the labels and look for ingredients that will best ease your discomfort. Important: Talk with your doctor about possible drug interactions if you're taking prescription medications for blood pressure, a heart-related condition, or diabetes.

Relieving Pain and Fever
Avoid multisymptom products. Instead, pick one that matches your specific symptoms. For fever, aches and pains, sinus pressure, and sore throat, look for cold remedies with acetaminophen (such as Tylenol) or ibuprofen (such as Advil or Motrin)-but remember, doctors no longer believe in suppressing low-grade fever (less than 101.5 F) except in very young and very old people, or in people with heart or lung disease. Kids (18 and younger) should never take aspirin because of the possibility of Reye's syndrome.

Clearing Congestion
If your nose or sinuses are congested, then you may need a decongestant such as pseudoephedrine (Sudafed). Decongestants make breathing easier by shrinking swollen mucous membranes in the nose, allowing air to pass through.

Breathing Easy
Decongestant nasal sprays containing phenyl-ephrine (such as Neo-Synephrine) are effective for opening nasal passages. But using medicated nasal sprays for more than three days in a row can cause a "rebound effect"-you may end up more congested than you were at the start. Saline sprays and saline nose drops are not decongestants but help keep nasal tissues moist so the tissues can filter air. They can be used as often as needed.

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