Health Blog

cold vs flu

Coping with Colds and the Flu This Winter

Dr. Marissa Ferrazzo-Weller of Pearl River Internal Medicine – Highland Medical, P.C., an affiliate of Montefiore Nyack Hospital, shares what you can do to make it through cold and flu season.

Dr. Marissa Ferrazzo-Weller

Click here for infographic.

If you or your kids start feeling sick this winter, it’s helpful to know whether it’s a cold or the flu. “Once you know what you’re dealing with, you can take the right steps to feel better,” says Marissa Ferrazzo-Weller, DO, of Pearl River Internal Medicine.  

How can you tell if it’s a cold or the flu? Both are viral infections of the respiratory tract, which includes the nose, throat, airways and lungs. “They share many symptoms, but there are some differences,” she notes. “The symptoms of a cold develop more slowly, and are usually milder than flu symptoms. A cold typically lasts for about one week, but some do linger, especially in children, elderly people, and those in poor health.” View our Cold vs Flu infographic.

Cold symptoms can include:

  • Fever up to 102°F
  • Runny or stuffy nose (often with green- or yellow-colored discharge)
  • Sore throat
  • Cough
  • Sneezing
  • Fatigue
  • Muscle aches
  • Headache
  • Watery eyes

While you can’t cure a cold, you can treat symptoms so you feel better faster. You can try treating congestion, cough and nasal discharge with a decongestant, antihistamine or a combination of the two. Many over-the-counter cold treatments contain both and are labeled for multi-symptom relief. Dr. Ferrazzo-Weller suggests that you check the list of active ingredients to make sure the medicine addresses your particular symptoms. She advises, “People with high blood pressure and heart disease should avoid decongestants, since they can raise blood pressure.” While many other remedies such as Echinacea, zinc and vitamin C are often touted as cold remedies, there is no solid scientific evidence that supports these claims.

“Staying hydrated is extremely useful in helping your body fight illness,” she shares. “Drink plenty of fluids, but avoid caffeinated and alcoholic drinks as they can lead to dehydration.” She also recommends gargling with warm salt water and getting lots of rest, both of which can help you feel better.

“When kids are sick we often keep them home, but as adults, we can’t always follow the same guidelines,” Dr. Ferrazzo-Weller notes. “If you must go to work, remember to wash your hands frequently and have a box of tissues and a hand sanitizer readily available. Your diligence will reduce the spread of germs, helping to keep your associates and family members from getting ill.”

Flu symptoms usually appear suddenly and can include:

  • Fever over 102°F
  • Stuffy nose
  • Nausea
  • Chills and sweats
  • Fatigue
  • Muscle aches, especially in your back, arms and legs
  • Cough
  • Headache
  • Loss of appetite

Although most people recover from the flu within one or two weeks, elderly people may feel weak for a longer time, even after other symptoms disappear. Dr. Ferrazzo-Weller says that getting plenty of fluids and bed rest is the best remedy for flu, but in some instances, your doctor may prescribe an antiviral medication.  Drugs such as oseltamivir (Tamiflu) or zanamivir(Relenza) are started within two days after flu symptoms appear, and can reduce the severity of symptoms and the length of the illness by at least one day.

Antiviral drugs may be recommended for people who are at higher risk for flu complications based on their age (older than 65 or younger than 2 years old) or underlying medical conditions such as asthma, blood disorders (such as sickle cell disease), chronic lung disease (such as COPD), diabetes, heart disease, or kidney or liver disorders.

Flu symptoms, such as  congestion, headache,  cough and nasal discharge, can be treated with over-the- counter medicines as appropriate for the symptoms and the patient’s existing health conditions. Dr. Ferrazzo-Weller’s advice, “Stay home until your symptoms are gone and you are truly feeling better.”

The best way to prevent the flu is to get a flu shot.  As it takes about two weeks for the vaccine to protect the body from the influenza virus, the best time to get a flu shot is in September orOctober. However, as Dr. Ferrazzo-Weller tells her patients, “Getting a flu shot at any point in the flu season will still help protect you from the flu.”