It’s almost that time of year again. Time to think about getting your annual flu shot, of course. (The vaccine can keep you from getting the flu, and if you do get the virus, it will likely be a milder case.) It’s also time for another September task: preparing your family’s medicine cabinet for the winter months ahead.
Colds usually cause those icky symptoms we all hate: stuffy or runny nose, sneezing, coughing, scratchy throat and watery eyes. There is no vaccine against colds, which come on gradually and often spread through contact with infected mucus.
Flu comes on suddenly and lasts longer than a cold. Flu symptoms include fever, headache, chills, dry cough, body aches, fatigue and general misery. Like colds, flu also can cause a stuffy or runny nose, sneezing and watery eyes. Young children may also experience nausea and vomiting with flu. Flu viruses spread mainly by droplets made when people with flu cough, sneeze or talk. You also can get flu by touching a surface or object that has flu virus on it.
Flu season in the U.S. may begin as early as October and can last as late as May. It generally peaks between December and February. Getting ready now, with over-the-counter (OTC) medications to treat symptoms, is smart. While OTC medications can’t cure a cold or the flu, they can ease symptoms and make you less miserable.
- Nasal decongestants help unclog a stuffy nose.
- Cough suppressants quiet coughs.
- Expectorants loosen mucus.
- Antihistamines help stop a runny nose and sneezing.
- Pain relievers can ease fever, headaches and minor aches.
Now’s also the time to educate yourself about these medications. Check the medicine’s potential side effects. Medications can cause drowsiness and may interact with food, alcohol, dietary supplements and each other. It’s best to tell your doctor and pharmacist about every medication and supplement you and your family members take. Check with your doctor before giving OTC medicine to children.
Of course, sometimes you will have symptoms that require more than OTC medications. Signs of trouble can include:
- A cough that disrupts sleep
- A fever that won’t respond to treatment
- Increased shortness of breath
- Face pain caused by a sinus infection
- High fever, chest pain or a difference in the mucus you’re producing, after feeling better for a short time
If you are experiencing any of these symptoms, talk with your doctor. If you think you may have the flu, see your doctor as soon as possible. There are rapid tests that can detect flu. If you have flu, your doctor may want you to take an antiviral medication right away if you are at risk for complications.
Source: U.S. Food and Drug Administration