We are entering cold and flu season. The average healthy person gets one or two viral illnesses per year.
The typical common cold is usually characterized by runny nose, sore throat, mild cough, and, sometimes, a slight fever or body aches.
On the other hand, influenza (type A or B) is characterized by severe muscle aches and body aches, high fever (101 degrees or higher), mild sore throat, and headache. Runny nose almost surely signifies a common cold as opposed to influenza. If you have any of these symptoms, how do you know what medication to take or if you should see your doctor?
First, do not take antibiotics unless a health-care provider confirms that you have a bacterial infection---they do not work on viral infections. Taking unnecessary antibiotics contributes to antibiotic resistance. In addition, the gut microbiome (the community of billions of living organisms in your intestines) is altered by antibiotics, which can weaken the immune system and increase susceptibility to diarrhea and gastrointestinal infections.
What's your best antidote if you do get the cold or flu? Rest, rest, rest, and fluids. Your body's immune system needs sleep to fight infections. Stay away from other ill people; your immune system is compromised, so you're more vulnerable to a secondary infection. And always wash your hands many times a day, especially when in public places.
If you are diagnosed with influenza within the first three days of your illness, taking Tamiflu may shorten the duration of the illness and decrease its severity, but it is not a miracle drug. Ibuprofen (Advil) or naproxen (Aleve) along with an OTC sinus medication may help relieve cold symptoms, and acetaminophen (Tylenol) will bring your temperature down. Medical studies do not support the use of vitamin C or echinacea supplements to treat a cold.
If you're not sure what type of illness you have, see your doctor, particularly if you've had symptoms for more than five days and they become more, rather than less, severe. Also, what begins as a cold or flu can develop into a bacterial infection, like bronchitis or pneumonia. Sustained fevers over 101 degrees for more than five days usually indicate that a bacterial infection such as pneumonia is present; this definitely warrants a visit to your doctor to get tested.
Hopefully, you have already had a flu shot as this is the best protection. If you can't get the flu shot due to allergies, etc. then take all of the above precautions.