Before cold and flu season gets into full swing, arm yourself against germs. To stave off the flu, start here: "Get a flu shot. That's the single most important thing you can do," says Aaron Glatt, MD, president and chief executive officer of St. Joseph Hospital in Bethpage, N.Y.
If a cold or flu does catch you, make sure your medicine chest is stocked with everything you need to relieve your most miserable symptoms. WebMD's experts have the goods on the must-have cold and flu remedies this season.
Aches and fever are the flu's signature calling cards. Often they're behind much of the misery you feel when you're sick. When it comes to pain relief, you have a couple of options: a nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drug such as ibuprofen (Advil, Motrin) or naproxen sodium (Aleve).
Another option is acetaminophen (Tylenol). All work about equally well. "NSAIDs in general are very safe and effective medications for minor aches and pains," says Glatt, who's also a spokesperson for the Infectious Diseases Society of America. "And acetaminophen is an excellent painkiller as well."
Aspirin has long been a medicine-chest staple, and many people continue to find relief from it today. "Aspirin still helps reduce fever, and it's an analgesic [pain reliever]," says Thomas Tallman, DO, an emergency medicine physician and cold and flu expert at the Cleveland Clinic.
Just be sure not to give aspirin to children under 18 because it can increase their risk for a rare but dangerous disease called Reye's syndrome.
No matter which pain reliever you take, carefully follow the dosing instructions on the label. Taking more than the recommended amount of acetaminophen can be hard on your liver, while high doses of ibuprofen have been linked to stomach bleeding. And be sure not to take more than one medicine with the same active ingredient.