Do you get sick if your neighbor sneezes next door? Or are you the hearty type who can work in a quarantine ward without getting even a sniffle? Either way, it’s time to start thinking about the winter season and all the cold and influenza bugs it brings. The U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) has released its official health recommendations. Here are some of the high points.
Know the difference between cold and flu
It’s easy to get confused, and many people don’t realize there are important differences. The common cold comes on slowly, usually over a 2 to 3 days. It is characterized by sneezing and a stuffy, runny nose. If the mucus runs down the back of your throat, you can have a sore and scratchy throat, followed a few days later by a cough.
The flu, on the other hand comes on fast–doctors say that flu patients can almost tell them the exact hour they got sick. Symptoms typically include fever, headache, chills, a dry cough, body aches, fatigue, and–in the words of the FDA–“general misery.” You can also have a stuffy, runny nose with sneezing.
The best way to prevent the flu is with a vaccine, which is available now. It takes about 2 weeks for the vaccine to reach full effectiveness, so plan ahead for the holidays (which are fast approaching!). The FDA recommends that all people 6 months of age and older should be vaccinated. However, you should talk to your health care profes- sional before getting vaccinated if you:
- have certain allergies, especially to eggs
- have an illness, such as pneumonia
- have a high fever
- are pregnant
There is no vaccine for the common cold, and because there are thousands of different cold viruses, you can get different versions throughout the year.
For both cold and flu, you can reduce your risk by limiting your exposure and keeping your immune system healthy. In a nutshell:
- Wash your hands often with soap and water.
- Limit exposure to infected people.
- Practice healthy eating habits.
- Get plenty of sleep.
- Keep stress in check.
When to see the doctor
A good rule of thumb is to always err on the side of caution, and see a doctor if you feel you aren’t getting better or if your symptoms worsen. If you get a mucus build-up, you may develop a bacterial infection that could require antibiotics. (Note that antibiotics won’t help a cold or flu go away any faster, so don’t demand them if your doctor doesn’t want to prescribe them.)
With children, be alert for high fevers and for abnormal behavior such as unusual drowsiness, refusal to eat, crying a lot, holding the ears or stomach, and wheezing.
Signs of trouble for all people can include:
- a cough that disrupts sleep
- a fever that won’t go down
- increased shortness of breath
- face pain caused by a sinus infection
- worsening of symptoms, high fever, chest pain, or a difference in the mucus you’re producing, all after feeling better for a short time
To learn more, including details and information about what to do if you get sick, and how to choose over-the-counter medications, download the entire FDA recommendations paper here:
Be careful out there!