Prevent & Treat Colds & the Flu
September 19, 2008
Cold and flu basics
Influenza - or the flu - is a contagious disease that is caused by the influenza virus. It attacks the respiratory tract in humans and is different from a cold. The flu comes on suddenly whereas a cold tends to come on gradually, usually starting with a scratchy throat.
The flu is more serious than a cold, lasts longer, and often leaves you feeling wiped-out, with a headache, chills, dry cough and body aches. Both colds and flu are viral infections that cause a stuffy nose, sore throat, cough and fever, but colds are usually distinguished by a runny nose and sneezing. Viral infections cannot be treated by antibiotics.
Most people who get the flu will recover in 1 to 2 weeks, but some people will develop life-threatening complications as a result of the flu. Millions of people in the United States will get the flu each year. An average of about 36,000 people per year in the United States die from the flu, and 114,000 per year have to be admitted to the hospital as a result of influenza.
People over 65 years old, people of any age with chronic medical conditions, and very young children are more likely to get complications such as pneumonia, bronchitis, and sinus and ear infections from flu. The flu can make chronic health problems worse. For example, people with asthma may experience asthma attacks while they have the flu.
Prepare yourself this cold and flu season with a flu shot.
When should I call my doctor about my cold or flu?
Most of the time, colds and flu simply have to run their course because they are viral infections. Doctors will look for and treat cold and flu complications such as bronchitis, sinusitis, ear infections, and pneumonia - bacterial infections that may require antibiotics.
If you have any of the symptoms below, please call your doctor.
• A cold that lasts for more than 10 days
• Earache or drainage from your ear
• Severe pain in your face or forehead
• Temperature above 102oF
• Shortness of breath
• Hoarseness, sore throat or a cough that won't go away
• The mucus you’re producing changes; such as a change from clear to thick, yellow-green mucus.
With children, be alert for high fevers and abnormal behavior - acting unusually drowsy, refusing to eat, crying a lot, holding the ears or stomach, and wheezing.
Get a flu shot every year. Studies of healthy young adults have shown flu vaccine to be 70% to 90% effective in preventing the flu. In the elderly and those with certain long-term medical conditions the flu vaccine is very effective in reducing hospitalizations and death from flu-related causes. Generally, new influenza virus strains circulate every flu season, so the vaccine is changed each year.
Wash your hands and don't touch your face. Both colds and flus can be passed through coughing, sneezing, and touching surfaces such as doorknobs and telephones. Touching your nose, mouth, and eyes with contaminated hands makes it easy for cold and flu viruses to enter the body.
Also, limit your exposure to infected people and practice healthy habits such as eating a balanced diet, getting enough sleep and exercise.
What to do if you get a cold or the flu
• Drink plenty of liquids
• Avoid using alcohol and tobacco
• Take medication to relieve the symptoms of flu. Do not give aspirin to a child or teenager
• Be on the alert for complications from the flu or a cold, especially if you are a high risk patient (if you are age 65 or older, or have a chronic illness). Symptoms of these complications are listed above.
What's in over-the-counter cold/flu medicines?
The ingredients listed below are found in many cold/flu medicines. Read labels carefully. If you have questions, talk to your doctor or pharmacist.
Analgesics relieve aches and pains and reduce fever. Examples: acetaminophen, aspirin, ibuprofen, ketoprofen, naproxen. Warning: Children and teenagers shouldn't be given aspirin.
Antitussives tell your brain to stop coughing. Don't take an antitussive if you're coughing up mucus. Example: dextromethorphan.
Expectorants help thin mucus so it can be coughed up more easily. Example: guaifenesin.
Oral decongestants shrink the nasal passages and reduce congestion. Example: pseudoephedrine.
Never give aspirin to children or teenagers who have flu-like symptoms – and particularly fever – without first speaking to your doctor. Giving aspirin to children and teenagers who have influenza can cause a rare but serious illness called Reye syndrome. Children or teenagers with the flu should get plenty of rest, drink lots of liquids, and take medicines that contain no aspirin to relieve symptoms.
If you need care after hours
You may call any main line for our Nurse Advice Helpline which will connect you with an experienced registered nurse. The service is available every evening from 5:00 pm to 8:00 am the next day, every weekend and holiday.
The following Urgent Care Centers are open to patients every day of the year from 7:00 am to 11:00 pm:
Highland Urgent Care Center at 7000 Boulder Ave.
Banning Urgent Care Center at 6900 Ramsey St.
Redlands Urgent Care Center at 245 Terracina Blvd, Suite 102
Evening Pediatric Clinic in Highland is open from 6:00 pm to 9:00 pm, Mondays - Thursdays. Check in at the Urgent Care registration area. No appointment is necessary -first come first serve.
Weekend and Holiday Pediatric Clinic in Redlands. Call 793-3311 for a same day morning appointment on the weekend or holiday with a Beaver pediatric nurse practitioner or pediatrician.