Cold and Flu

Follow this chart for information about how to treat the symptoms of a cold or the flu and how to know when to see a doctor. Other illnesses may also cause flu- or cold-like symptoms. Self-care is often all that is needed to treat common viral illnesses.

Step 2

Answering Questions

  • Do you have a fever?

  • Do you have a sore throat and headache without nasal drainage or a cough?

  • Did your symptoms start suddenly, and do you have a combination of symptoms including muscle aches, fatigue, chills, sore throat, runny nose, and/or cough?

  • Are you experiencing wheezing, shortness of breath, and a persistent cough that brings up clear, yellow, or green mucus?

  • Do you have a headache or muscle aches, nausea or vomiting, and watery diarrhea?

  • Are you experiencing a runny and/or itchy nose, sneezing, and itchy eyes that get worse when you are outside or around certain triggers?

  • Are you experiencing sneezing, a sore throat with a cough, a headache, congestion, and a runny nose?

  • Do you have pressure or pain around your eyes, cheeks, nose, or forehead; nasal congestion; a headache; a dry cough; and/or any type of discharge from your nose?

Step 3

Possible Causes

  • Diagnosis

    You may have STREP THROAT, an infection caused by bacteria.


    Self Care

    See your doctor if your sore throat or fever lasts longer than 48 hours. He or she can do a test to find out if you have strep throat. If you do, your doctor may give you an antibiotic to treat it.

    You should also get plenty of rest and drink lots of water. Gargling with warm salt water (1/4 teaspoon of salt in 1 cup [8 ounces] of warm water) may help relieve your sore throat.


  • Diagnosis

    You may have a viral infection, possibly INFLUENZA (also known as the FLU).


    Self Care

    If you see your doctor within 48 hours of the start of your symptoms, he or she may prescribe an antiviral medicine to shorten the course of the flu.

    Get plenty of rest and drink lots of fluids. Over-the-counter (OTC) cough and cold medicines may relieve some of your symptoms. Don’t give OTC cough and cold medicines to a child younger than 4 years of age unless your child’s doctor says it’s okay.

    Remember, you can prevent the flu by getting a flu shot each fall.


  • Diagnosis

    You may have ACUTE BRONCHITIS, an inflammation of the airways that is most often caused by a viral infection.


    Self Care

    Get plenty of rest and drink lots of fluids. Using a cool-mist humidifier may also relieve some of your symptoms. If you smoke, quitting is the best way to help your airways heal faster.

    Antibiotics do not work against the viruses that cause most cases of acute bronchitis. An over-the-counter (OTC) medicine can reduce inflammation, ease pain, and lower your fever. An expectorant (medicine that thins mucus) can help your cough clear mucus from your airways. Don’t give over-the-counter (OTC) cough and cold medicines to a child younger than 4 years of age unless your child’s doctor says it’s okay.

    If you are wheezing, you might need inhaled medicine. Your doctor will decide if this treatment is right for you.

    If your symptoms persist or get worse, contact your doctor. If you are having trouble breathing at rest or with light activity, go directly to the nearest emergency room (by ambulance, if necessary).


  • Diagnosis

    You may have viral GASTROENTERITIS. Many people call it the STOMACH FLU, but it is not the same as influenza.


    Self Care

    Get plenty of rest and stay hydrated. Ease back into eating with bland foods and clear liquids.

    Children who have gastroenteritis should be given an oral rehydration solution (ORS) to avoid dehydration.


  • Diagnosis

    You may have ALLERGIC RHINITIS, an allergic reaction to triggers such as tree, grass, or weed pollen; animal dander from cats and dogs; mold; and dust mites.


    Self Care

    Try an over-the-counter (OTC) antihistamine medicine or an OTC nasal steroid spray. If your symptoms are getting worse or are hard to control, contact your doctor.


  • Diagnosis

    You probably have a viral infection, commonly called a COLD.


    Self Care

    Antibiotics do not work against the viruses that cause colds.

    Get plenty of rest and drink lots of fluids. Try an over-the-counter (OTC) cough and cold medicine to treat the specific symptoms you are having. Don’t give OTC cough and cold medicines to a child younger than 4 years of age unless your child’s doctor says it’s okay.


  • Diagnosis

    You may be developing a viral or bacterial infection called SINUSITIS.


    Self Care

    Get plenty of rest and drink lots of water. Over-the-counter (OTC) pain relievers may help reduce facial pain. Holding a warm, wet towel against your face or breathing in steam through a warm cloth or towel can relieve sinus pressure and help open your sinus passages. A cool-mist humidifier may help your sinuses drain more easily.

    Contact your doctor if your symptoms last longer than 10 days or if your symptoms start to get better but then suddenly get worse again. Severe cases of sinusitis caused by bacteria may require an antibiotic.


  • Self Care

    For more information, please talk to your doctor. If you think your problem is serious, call right away.

    WARNING: Due to the risk of Reye’s syndrome, don’t give aspirin to children without your doctor’s approval.


Family Doctor Logo American Academy of Family Physicians Logo

Advertisement