October 19, 2018
Health & Fitness
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Protecting Yourself Against Influenza And The Common Cold

Dr. Florence Jaffa -- UM BWMC
Dr. Florence Jaffa -- UM BWMC's picture
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September 6, 2017

As fall begins, we begin to see symptoms associated with the common cold and influenza (flu). But while you may think you are suffering from either a cold or flu, you may be suffering from the other illness. Knowing the difference between the cold and the flu and their symptoms can help determine the best course of treatment.

The flu and cold are both contagious respiratory illnesses. However, the flu can cause more serious illness than a cold. Flu symptoms are typically worse or more intense than cold symptoms and can include fever, body aches, extreme tiredness and dry cough.

The best way to prevent the flu is to get an annual flu vaccine. While the flu virus is always changing, the flu vaccine protects against the main strains that are shown by research to cause the most illness during peak flu season (October through March). Even if patients come down with a strain not covered in the vaccine, the vaccine can make the illness milder.

Another way to help prevent flu is to cover your nose and mouth with a tissue when you cough or sneeze. Throw the tissue away immediately after you use it. Wash your hands with soap and water, or use alcohol-based hand gels to keep hands clean. Try not to touch your eyes, nose or mouth, as germs often spread this way. These are good tips for cold sufferers, as well.

If despite these measures, you still get the flu, call your health care provider. The best way to confirm the illness is by having a special test conducted during the first few days of flu symptoms. Antiviral medications that fight the flu can be prescribed, but they must be started within two days of initial symptoms to be effective.

As for the common cold, chances are you'll get at least one during the winter months. Cold symptoms usually begin one to three days after catching a cold virus. Symptoms start with a burning feeling in the nose or throat and continue with sneezing and a runny or stuffy nose. And for the most part, colds usually do not produce a fever.

Cold symptoms tend to last three to four days, although congestion may continue for a week or more. The first three days of cold symptoms are the most contagious days, so stay home and rest when possible.

In addition to rest, cold sufferers should drink plenty of fluids. Over-the-counter medications, such as decongestants, are also available to provide some relief. But check before giving any cold medication to a child.

As with any illness, call your health care provider if you have additional questions or concerns.

Dr. Florence Jaffa is a family medicine physician with the University of Maryland Community Medical Group, a partner of University of Maryland Baltimore Washington Medical Center. To reach Dr. Jaffa, call 410-553-8265.

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