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Colds and the flu - what to ask your doctor - adult

What to ask your doctor about colds and the flu - adult; Influenza - what to ask your doctor - adult; Upper respiratory infection - what to ask your doctor - adult; URI - what to ask your doctor - adult; H1N1 (Swine) flu - what to ask your doctor - adult

Many different germs, called viruses, cause colds. Symptoms of the common cold include:

  • Runny nose
  • Nasal congestion
  • Sneezing
  • Sore throat
  • Cough
  • Headache

The flu is an infection of the nose, throat, and lungs caused by the influenza virus.

Many flu symptoms are similar to those of a common cold. Flu symptoms can also include fever, muscle aches, fatigue, vomiting, and diarrhea.

Below are some questions you may want to ask your health care provider to help you take care of your cold or flu.

Questions

What are the symptoms of a cold? What are the symptoms of the flu? How can I tell them apart?

  • Will I have a fever? How high? How long will it last? Can a high fever be dangerous?
  • Will I have a cough? Sore throat? Runny nose? Headache? Other symptoms? How long will these symptoms last? Will I be tired or achy?
  • How will I know if I have an ear infection?
  • How will I know if I have pneumonia?

Can I make other people sick? How can I prevent that? What should I do if I have a young child at home? How about somebody who is older?

When will I start to feel better?

What should I eat or drink? How much?

What medicines can I buy to help with my symptoms?

  • Can I take aspirin or ibuprofen (Advil, Motrin)? How about acetaminophen (Tylenol)? How about cold medicines?
  • Can my provider prescribe stronger medicines to help improve my symptoms?
  • Can I take vitamins or herbs to make my cold or flu go away quicker? How do I know if they are safe?

Will antibiotics make my symptoms go away faster?

Are there other medicines that can make the flu go away faster?

How can I keep from getting a cold or the flu?

  • Should I get a flu shot? What time of year should I get one? Do I need one or two flu shots every year? What are the risks of the flu shot? What are the risks for me if I do not get a flu shot? Does the regular flu shot protect against swine flu?
  • Is a flu shot safe for me if I am pregnant?
  • Will a flu shot keep me from getting colds all year long?
  • Can smoking or being around smokers cause me to get the flu more easily?
  • Can I take vitamins or herbs to prevent the flu?

References

Centers for Disease Control and Prevention website. Key facts about seasonal flu vaccine. www.cdc.gov/flu/protect/keyfacts.htm. Updated October 26, 2017. Accessed January 2, 2018.

Centers for Disease Control and Prevention website. The flu: what to do if you get sick. www.cdc.gov/flu/takingcare.htm. Updated February 14, 2017. Accessed January 2, 2018.

Hayden FG. Influenza. In: Goldman L, Schafer AI, eds. Goldman-Cecil Medicine. 25th ed. Philadelphia, PA: Elsevier Saunders; 2016:chap 364.

Turner RB. The common cold. In: Goldman L, Schafer AI, eds. Goldman-Cecil Medicine. 25th ed. Philadelphia, PA: Elsevier Saunders; 2016:chap 361.

  • The difference between a cold and the flu

    The difference between a cold and the flu

    Animation

  •  

    The difference between a cold and the flu - Animation

    So what's the difference between cold and flu. The two words go together like salt and pepper or like New Year's and weight loss. I'm Dr. Alan Greene and I want to help you figure out what the difference is. Most people have a general idea that they are different, but when pressed have a hard time really saying what the difference is. The cold, the common cold, is something very common you usually get on average 3 or more times during a year. And it is a virus that's primarily in the nose. The cold is focused in the nose. The 3 main symptoms of a cold are sneezing, nasal stuffiness, and runny nose. All are focused in the nose. You may have other symptoms - you may have a fever of 100, 101, maybe you may have some tickling or scratchiness in the back of the throat. In fact, that may be the very first symptom - a little scratch in the back of the throat. Then after a couple days the nasal discharge tends to turn a little bit darker, greener. And then after about a week you're all the way better. But it's focused in the head, focused in the nose. With the flu you're sick all over. It's a whole body disease. It's a much more serious illness. The flu in the United States today still kills about 36,000 people a year. Mostly people who already are weak for some reason or another. But it's a serious illness. And it usually slams into you with a fever. Typically the fever is in the 102 all the way up to a 106 range. A higher fever often the first symptom and you feel sick all over. You have muscle aches, you're tired, you feel out of it, you really feel crummy. And after a couple of days the respiratory symptoms start to come too. And depending where the flu virus settles you might have some sneezing, you might have some coughing. The classic symptom is a dry, hacking kind of cough, could be wheezing, could be other things, but the cough is the most common. Then it's there also for around 7 days or so and then at the end of it you may have another peak of fatigue and a second peak of fever. But usually after about a week you'll start feeling better with most cases of the flu. Colds and flus are very, very different illnesses with a few of the same symptoms.

  • Cold remedies

    Cold remedies - illustration

    Sore throat, cough, stuffy nose, sneezing, runny nose, fever, chills, and muscle aches are all symptoms associated with the common cold. Over-the-counter medicines for a cold only alleviate cold symptoms but do not shorten the duration of a cold. As always, drinking plenty of fluids and rest are most important for recovery from a cold.

    Cold remedies

    illustration

  • The difference between a cold and the flu

    Animation

  •  

    The difference between a cold and the flu - Animation

    So what's the difference between cold and flu. The two words go together like salt and pepper or like New Year's and weight loss. I'm Dr. Alan Greene and I want to help you figure out what the difference is. Most people have a general idea that they are different, but when pressed have a hard time really saying what the difference is. The cold, the common cold, is something very common you usually get on average 3 or more times during a year. And it is a virus that's primarily in the nose. The cold is focused in the nose. The 3 main symptoms of a cold are sneezing, nasal stuffiness, and runny nose. All are focused in the nose. You may have other symptoms - you may have a fever of 100, 101, maybe you may have some tickling or scratchiness in the back of the throat. In fact, that may be the very first symptom - a little scratch in the back of the throat. Then after a couple days the nasal discharge tends to turn a little bit darker, greener. And then after about a week you're all the way better. But it's focused in the head, focused in the nose. With the flu you're sick all over. It's a whole body disease. It's a much more serious illness. The flu in the United States today still kills about 36,000 people a year. Mostly people who already are weak for some reason or another. But it's a serious illness. And it usually slams into you with a fever. Typically the fever is in the 102 all the way up to a 106 range. A higher fever often the first symptom and you feel sick all over. You have muscle aches, you're tired, you feel out of it, you really feel crummy. And after a couple of days the respiratory symptoms start to come too. And depending where the flu virus settles you might have some sneezing, you might have some coughing. The classic symptom is a dry, hacking kind of cough, could be wheezing, could be other things, but the cough is the most common. Then it's there also for around 7 days or so and then at the end of it you may have another peak of fatigue and a second peak of fever. But usually after about a week you'll start feeling better with most cases of the flu. Colds and flus are very, very different illnesses with a few of the same symptoms.

  • Cold remedies

    Cold remedies - illustration

    Sore throat, cough, stuffy nose, sneezing, runny nose, fever, chills, and muscle aches are all symptoms associated with the common cold. Over-the-counter medicines for a cold only alleviate cold symptoms but do not shorten the duration of a cold. As always, drinking plenty of fluids and rest are most important for recovery from a cold.

    Cold remedies

    illustration

A Closer Look

 

Talking to your MD

 

 

Review Date: 11/20/2017

Reviewed By: Laura J. Martin, MD, MPH, ABIM Board Certified in Internal Medicine and Hospice and Palliative Medicine, Atlanta, GA. Also reviewed by David Zieve, MD, MHA, Medical Director, Brenda Conaway, Editorial Director, and the A.D.A.M. Editorial team.

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