Flu vs. the Common Cold: Symptoms and Treatment

Learn which illness you have, how to feel better, when to see the doctor, and more.

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• Sudden dizziness

• Confusion

• Severe or persistent vomiting

• Flu-like symptoms that improve but then return with fever and worse cough

[See 7 Nasty Germs That Could Land Your Kid in the Hospital—and How to Avoid Them.]

When Should I Treat My Illness at Home?

If you're not in one of the high-risk groups for complications, you don't have any of the emergency warning signs, you're well enough to take care of your basic needs, and your symptoms are mild, you're most likely able to treat your flu or cold at home. If you're not sure, talk to your pharmacist or doctor.

Self-Care for Cold and Flu

Getting plenty of rest and fluids is the first thing you can do to speed your recovery. It's best to avoid caffeinated beverages and alcohol, and instead focus on water, juice, and soup. Stay in bed, keep contact with household members to a minimum, and don't go out in public unless absolutely necessary. Caregivers should likewise keep contact to a minimum and wash hands often with soap and water.

Remember that during the first three days that you have cold symptoms, you're contagious. With the flu, you 're contagious one day before symptoms develop and up to five to seven days after becoming sick. Stay home for at least 24 hours after your fever is gone, except to get medical care.

Most symptoms can be treated with over-the-counter medications if they're getting in the way of sleep. Again, take time to talk to your pharmacist about how to take the medications, read the package directions each time, and use only the supplied measuring device. Children younger than 6 years should take cough or cold medications only under the direction of a doctor. Children under the age of 19 should never take aspirin.

How Can I Avoid Getting The Flu or a Cold?

Good personal hygiene is important for preventing illness. Touching your face, mouth, nose, or eyes after contact with the virus provides an easy way in. Coughing and sneezing sends the virus into the air.

Using tissues, covering your mouth with the crook of your elbow, or even using a mask can reduce the spread of the virus. Getting vaccinated for the flu is one of the best ways to protect yourself and your community against the virus.

[See Back-to-School Germs to Avoid.]

Who Should Get a Flu Shot?

Unless you are allergic to chicken eggs or had an allergic reaction to a flu shot in the past, everyone older than 6 months should be vaccinated.

Note: This article was originally published on Nov. 16, 2011 on PharmacyTimes.com. It has been edited and republished by U.S. News.