Colds and Flu

There’s no way to cure a cold (it’s a virus, so antibiotics don’t help). But if you have influenza, early treatment (within 24-48 hours of becoming sick) can reduce symptoms and shorten the illness by 1-11/2 days.

So how do you know which you have?

The main characteristic of a cold is a stopped-up, runny nose that lasts three to seven days. Flu seldom affects the nose, and is more severe.

Quick diagnosis

Symptoms Flu Cold

Typically 102 to 104 degrees Fahrenheit and lasts three to four days

Mild (less than 100 degrees Fahrenheit orally)
Fatigue, Weakness

Severe “hit by a truck” feeling can last for two weeks

Headache Typical of flu

May have one from sinus congestion

Muscle Aches

Typical, severe


Typical, mild to severe

Nasal Congestion Seldom Typical
Sneezing Seldom Typical
Sore throat Typical Typical


A cold is an infection of the upper respiratory tract caused by one of almost 200 different viruses. A cold occurs when virus gets transported to the nasal passages by contaminated fingers or by droplets from coughs or sneezes.  The most important way to prevent colds is by washing your hands before touching your face. If you have a cold, you can help decrease the spread by covering your cough or sneezes. Stress, fatigue and a poor diet can increase your susceptibility to colds. Fortunately, you can gradually become immune to many of the common ones in the environment and catch fewer and less severe ones.

Cold symptoms depend on the particular virus you’ve caught. They can include a runny nose, sneezing, coughing, chills, sore throat and congestion.

What to do: Stay home and get plenty of rest. This gives you a chance to get well while not infecting others. An ordinary cold can last for five to seven days. Do call Vaden Medical Services and ask for the Advice Nurse if it lasts longer than ten days.

You can’t cure the common cold, but you can treat the symptoms:

  • Stay at home in a warm (but not overheated) room. Increase the moisture in the air by using a vaporizer or humidifier.
  • Drink at least two quarts of fluids every day.
  • Take acetaminophen or ibuprofen (if you’re not allergic to them) for aches and pains.
  • Choose cold preparations that have decongestants (i.e. pseudephedrine); try a first generation antihistamine like chlorpheniramine or diphenhydramine. (both may cause drowsiness)
  • Reserve cough suppressants for night.


Flu (influenza), like a cold, is caused by a virus, but the symptoms are different. Flu comes on quickly (over hours), and symptoms are severe. The main ones include a fever of 100° Fahrenheit orally or more, severe body aches, and cough (though usually mild).

What to do: The best strategy for preventing the flu is to get a flu shot. If you have flu symptoms, call the Medical Advice Nurse as soon as possible to see if there are medications that could be helpful to you.

Is it something else?

The following symptoms may indicate something other than a cold or flu, so consult Vaden Medical Services (ask for The Advice Nurse) if you have them.

  • A temperature over 104 degrees
  • Severe headaches or a stiff neck
  • Pain around your eyes or over your sinuses
  • Throbbing ear pain
  • Severely swollen glands and a sore throat
  • Wheezing or chest pains when you breathe
  • Sore throat and close contact with someone who has strep throat
  • Enlarged and reddened tonsils with white spots on them
  • Excessive fatigue or runny nose for over 14 days
  • Cough for more than 10 days

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