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Should I Go to the Clinic for a Cold or Flu?

You have a terrible cold -- maybe even the flu. Do you know when to see a doctor?
WebMD Magazine - Feature

Q: I figure I'll pick up a cold or the flu at some point from all the sniffling, coughing students in my classes. How do I know when to seek medical help?

A: You're right. Because you spend a lot of time around other people, your chances of getting a cold or the flu this winter are high. Remember to wash your hands frequently and get a flu vaccine.

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Prevent Flu: Healthy Habits Beat the Virus

To prevent flu -- or any illness -- you've got to stick with a healthy lifestyle. "I really believe your immune system takes care of a lot of things," says Erica Brownfield, MD, a professor of internal medicine at Emory University School of Medicine in Atlanta. "Even if you've been exposed to the flu, you don't have to get it." The best flu prevention strategy is basic -- good nutrition, regular exercise, and enough sleep, she tells WebMD. "You can also wash hands frequently, and avoid people who...

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What's the difference between colds and the flu? A typical cold causes a runny nose (the discharge is usually clear, but it could be yellow or green), body aches, coughing, and sometimes a mild fever. By day four or five, you should be well on your way to recovery.

Flu, on the other hand, can produce all those symptoms, plus headaches, fatigue, and most significantly a fever of 100 degrees or higher.

Colds and flu are both caused by viruses, not bacteria, so it's really just time that will make them go away. That said, both ailments can morph into more serious conditions, including sinus infection, bronchitis, pneumonia, and strep throat.

How to tell? Go to the clinic if you have sinus pressure or pain, a persistent or worsening sore throat, a deep cough that's making you hack up yellow or green phlegm, fast or difficult breathing, ear pain, or a high fever. If you think you have the flu -- and it's diagnosed quickly enough, a health care provider can give you an antiviral drug to help ease symptoms faster.

Find more articles, browse back issues, and read the current issue of "WebMD the Magazine."

Reviewed on July 01, 2015

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