Cold and flu: what you should do

Whether you live way up north or in the deep south, fall is the beginning of the cold and flu season. One of the peak months for breakouts is November and the second peak month is February. We’ve researched the best practices for staying healthy during the fall and winter months.

The difference between a cold and the flu

Some of the symptoms for a common cold and influenza (the flu) are the same, such as congestion, fever and coughing, so many people use the terms interchangeably. The common cold and the flu are not the same however. One is much more dangerous.

Common cold

A cold is a mild respiratory illness that can last for several days. It is caused by a wide range of viruses. Symptoms generally progress in this order:
  • Sore throat (which goes away)
  • Runny nose
  • Congestion
  • Cough
In some cases, the coughing and congestion can become worse and lead to a sinus infection.
Influenza (flu)

Flu symptoms are usually more severe than cold symptoms and come on quickly. The symptoms include:
  • Sore throat
  • Fever
  • Headache
  • Muscle aches and soreness
  • Congestion
  • Cough
The flu can last for several days, although many people feel rundown for more than one week. The danger of the flu is the potential for complications including pneumonia. If you experience shortness of breath, see your doctor right away.

The main difference between a cold and the flu in terms of symptoms, is the fever. If you or your child has a fever, it is probably the flu.

According to the Centers for Disease Prevention and Control, there were 85 infant deaths during the 2015-2016 flu season. Deaths to adults are not tracked, however hospitalizations are tracked and there were more than 30,000 in a single year.
Prevention pays off

Just like cold viruses, flu viruses enter your body through your nose, eyes or mouth. If someone sneezes, you could breathe in the virus. If someone coughs into their hand and uses the grocery cart handle, you could pick up the virus. Shaking hands, getting trapped in an elevator with a sick person and caring for a loved one are all ways to catch the virus.

Here is how you guard against the viruses that cause the common cold or influenza:
  • Wash your hands. Wash them for at least 20 seconds, and use soap.
  • Avoid touching potentially infected hands to your mouth, nose or eyes.
  • Get an annual flu vaccine. You don’t even need to see your “real” doctor and can get vaccinations at your local pharmacy, or grocery store, or place of work. In some instances, the vaccine is free. The CDC reports that the flu vaccine reduced the risk of hospitalization by 75% among infants receiving the vaccine and by 57% among adults.
If you are sick with either a cold or the flu, cough into a tissue, or into your elbow. Let’s not pass along the virus if we don’t have to.

There are several myths related to the flu vaccine. According to the CDC:
  • The flu vaccine does not give you the flu.
  • If you do get the flu (due to a virus not included in the vaccine) your symptoms should be less severe.
  • It is not better to get the flu (which can be deadly) rather than the vaccine (which carries minimal risk).
  • You need the flu vaccine every year, because the viruses change and so does the vaccination.
  • People at high risk (infants, elderly, those with compromised immune systems) are strongly recommended to become vaccinated every year.

Home remedies that work

If you have a high fever, or shortness of breath, please see your doctor. If you are just garden-variety miserable, these home remedies for cold and flu actually work.
  • Chicken soup. it clears nasal passages and congestion better than other hot liquids.
  • Chili peppers. These are rich in capsaicin that can help clear nasal passages.
  • Citrus or vitamin C. If you get a lot of citrus immediately after you begin noticing symptoms, your cold or flu could be less severe.
  • Garlic. Many studies are underway to try to prove the conventional wisdom that garlic helps fight the common cold. If you needed an excuse for more garlic – you’re welcome.
  • Ginger. Drink some ginger tea. Some studies show this spicy root may prevent the common cold by blocking the virus.
  • Quercetin. Kale, broccoli, cranberries, green tea, red onions and blueberries are all rich in an antioxidant called quercetin. New research shows it may help fight the common cold.
Please avoid caffeine and alcohol. Both are dehydrators, which can make your symptoms worse.

And it’s a myth that you should avoid dairy. There isn’t any research to support the need to avoid dairy. If you want some ice cream to soothe your sore throat, please indulge.

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