Cold & Flu Guide
It’s cold and flu season. Learn how to diagnose cold versus flu plus get prevention tips.
Understanding cold and flu
Can't tell if it's a cold or flu? Check these symptoms:
Length: Usually lasts about 9-10 days. Treat colds with the 3-3-3 rule: it takes three days to arrive, three days to stay and three days to leave.
Symptoms: A runny nose (the fluid starts out clear, but can develop into a thick, green mucous that can become crusty); a deep cough with no chest pain. Mild sore throat.
Fever: A fever may develop: 103-104 in babies and toddlers; low-grade (generally under 101) in older children and adults.
Anything else? Watch for green or yellow mucous oozing out from the eyes, which is a sign of an eye infection.
Length: Usually lasts about 7-10 days, although both coughing and fatigue can hang around for another two to three weeks.
Symptoms: No runny nose, but there will be a hacking cough and possibly chest pain; plus general achiness, sore muscles and pain behind the eyes.
Fever: Yes, and it tends to linger.
Anything else? While colds take a few days to make their entrance, flus hit fast and hard. Flu symptoms that are similar to cold symptoms (such as cough and fever) are also often felt more intensely. Children under age 3 may also have nausea and diarrhea.
Here’s how to minimize your family's chances of coming down with cold or flu.
Practice cold hygiene
It's important for parents to have good cold and flu hygiene because children follow their lead. Teach your children early on to wash their hands thoroughly — for as long as it takes to sing the ABCs — often throughout the day. Also, teach your child to cover his cough by tucking his face into his sleeve, and to wash his hands after he's coughed or sneezed into them.
Worried about a germ-filled waiting room at the doctor’s office? Call ahead to ask for an estimated waiting time, and then time your visit accordingly.
Build your base
Having overall good nutrition will boost the immune system at any age. Serve foods rich in Vitamin C such as oranges, tomatoes and red peppers. Log a full night's sleep.
Get the shot
Children who are older than six months can get a flu shot. Infants younger than six months shouldn't get the vaccination, because of maternal antibodies that have been transmitted from mom to baby during pregnancy and nursing. (Note: children under age 9 need a flu booster shot a month after the first.)
Ask for help
If you or your child is really knocked down by the flu, ask your doctor for products to use.
Fact vs fiction
Think your daughter’s wet feet started her sniffles? Or that the flu shot actually gives you the flu? Here are four cold and flu myths explained.
Myth: The flu shot gives you the flu.
Fact: While the flu shot is made up of flu virus particles, they're all inactive, so they can't make you sick. However, children aren’t fully protected against the flu for about six weeks. They need that second immunization four weeks after the first, and then they’re fully immunized about two weeks after that. So if you’re immunized late in the season, then you can acquire influenza in that period.
Myth: You'll get a cold if you don't wear your boots
Fact: There may be some truth to this one, according to a new small study from Cardiff University in Wales. Volunteers who soaked their feet in cold water for 20 minutes were more likely to catch a cold. That being said, it also takes exposure to a virus from an infected person (for example, touching a doorknob they touched and then rubbing your eyes) and a weakened immune system. Children are more likely to get colds because their immune systems haven't been exposed to all the various viruses floating around.
Myth: You should stay inside when you’re sick.
Fact: A little fresh air hasn’t hurt anybody! But the hint of truth in this myth is keeping sick children inside avoids exposing playmates to the virus.
Myth: Only time will make you feel better if you have the cold or flu.
Fact: Time helps, but rest helps even more, especially if your child has the flu. And forget that feed-a-cold-starve-a-fever rumor too — if your child has no appetite, small nutritious meals and little, regular sips of water or an electrolyte-replacement product if they’ve been vomiting, is recommended.
If your child is under three, check with your child’s doctor before doling out any cough or cold medication. And if they’re older than three, discuss medication options with the pharmacist rather than grabbing the first cough medication you spot.
Is not recommended aspirin-containing medications for children because of the concern with a condition called Reye’s syndrome, a condition that can damage the brain and liver.