Cold & Flu

Symptoms & Care

Cough, runny nose and the common cold 

These symptoms are usually caused by a viral infection. Lots of viruses can cause these cold symptoms. A cold can be uncomfortable.

Symptoms of the common cold:

  • Sneezing
  • Coughing
  • Sniffling and runny nose
  • Sore throat
  • Chest congestion

The common cold can cause fever in children, but generally does not in adults.

Most people with a routine cold do not need to be seen by a healthcare provider.

When should I call a healthcare provider?

  • Fever of more than 100.4 F (38 C) that comes with shaking chills, loss of appetite or trouble breathing
  • A fever and also have lung disease such as emphysema or asthma
  • A cough that lasts longer than 10 days
  • Chest pain when you cough, trouble breathing or coughing up blood
  • You have a medical condition that makes you a higher risk for getting ill.

What can I do to feel better? 

You may try cough and cold medicines that you can get without a prescription. These medicines may help with your symptoms, but they will not cure your cold or help you to get well faster. If you take these, follow the directions on the label. Do not combine 2 or more medicines that have acetaminophen in them (too much can damage liver). If you take prescription medications, ask the pharmacist if it’s safe to take the cold medicine you have in mind.

How long will I be sick? 

Colds usually last 3-7 days but some can have symptoms for up to 2 weeks. 

Flu (the basics)

What is the flu?  Influenza (“the flu”) is a virus that can cause fever, cough, body aches and other symptoms. There are different forms of the flu – the most common being the seasonal flu. All forms of the flu are caused by viruses. 

What are the most common flu symptoms?

  • Fever (temperature higher than 100 F or 37.8 C)
  • Cough
  • Headache or body aches
  • Less common symptoms are sore throat and runny nose

What should I do if I get the flu? 

Stay home and drink plenty of fluids. You can take acetaminophen (such as tylenol) or ibuprofen to relieve fever and aches. 

Most people get better on their own within 1 to 2 weeks. But call a healthcare provider if you:

  • Have trouble breathing or are short of breath
  • Feel pain or pressure in your chest or belly
  • Get suddenly dizzy
  • Feel confused
  • Have severe vomiting
  • You have a medical condition that makes you a higher risk for getting ill.

Whether or not you see a healthcare provider, you should stay home while you are sick with the flu to reduce the risk of exposing others. Do not go to work or to school until your fever has been gone for at least 24 hours without taking fever-reducing medicines. 

Not every person with the flu needs an antiviral medicine, but some do. Your healthcare provider will decide if you need an antiviral medicine. Antibiotics do not work on the flu. 

Is it the cold or the flu?

Symptoms Cold Flu
Fever Rare Usual; high (100-102F; occasionally higher); lasts 3-4 days
Headache Rare Common
Fatigue, weakness Sometimes Usual; can last up to 2-3 weeks
Extreme exhaustion Never Usual; at beginning of the illness
Stuffy nose Common Sometimes
Sneezing Usual Sometimes
Sore throat Common Sometimes
Chest discomfort, cough Mild to moderate; hacking cough Common; can become severe
General aches and pains Slight Usual; often severe