Medical Questions

Colds and Flu

I think I have a cold, but it might be the flu. How can I tell?

Should I go see a doctor if I think I have the flu?

How can I prevent a cold or flu?

How do you treat a cold or the flu?

What about using all those over-the-counter cold medications?

What happens if I need to be hospitalized?


I think I have a cold, but it might be the flu. How can I tell?

Both the cold and flu are caused by a virus, but they are not the same disorder. The common cold can be the result of one of more of 200 viruses that can cause infection once they invade the body. Influenza is caused by a single strain of one of three viruses, which change each year. In general, the common cold tends to be a milder infection, with less severe symptoms that last three to seven days. The flu hits harder, resulting in more severe symptoms that can persist for seven to 14 days.


Should I go see a doctor if I think I have the flu?

For the elderly, very young children or people with pre-existing medical conditions, the flu can be serious and even deadly.


How can I prevent a cold or flu?

Both cold and flu viruses enter the body through the nose and mouth, where they invade the sinuses, throat, and upper breathing tubes. These suggestions can help prevent colds and flue:

  • Wash your hands frequently, which can keep germs from spreading.
  • Avoid close exposure to people with colds and flu.
  • Do not touch your nose or eyes after coming in contact with a person with a cold or flu.
  • Get a flu vaccine each year, especially if you are in a high-risk group. (Contrary to popular belief, you can't get colds or flu from a flu shot; it's not a live vaccine.

How do you treat a cold or the flu?

Antibiotics will not cure colds or flu. There is no cure for the cold or flu once you get it. While you are recovering from cold or flu, here are some suggestions:

  • Rest
  • Drink plenty of fluids to help loosen mucus in your nose and chest
  • Avoid tobacco (a respiratory irritant)
  • Gargle with salt water to relieve a sore throat
  • Use saline nose drops to moisten irritated skin and help loosen mucus
  • Consider using a vaporizer, which can loosen secretions and make breathing easier.
  • Fever is now thought to be a defense against the invading virus, so experts advise not trying to lower a fever with drugs until it reaches 103 degrees, when it can start to be counter productive.

What about using all those over-the-counter cold medications?

Although no medication can cure the cold or flu viruses, over-the-counter and prescription drugs help relieve the symptoms. Americans spend an estimated $2 billion a year on cold remedies. Here is a guide to over-the-counter cold and flu medicines and what symptoms they relieve:

  • Analgesics - relieve muscle aches and pains and reduce fever. Examples: acetaminophen, aspirin and ibuprofen. NOTE: Aspirin should not be given to children with a fever because of the risk of developing Reye syndrome.
  • Antihistamines - block histamine, a substance that is released in response to allergies and causes runny nose and sneezing antihistamines help dry a runny nose and watery eyes. Examples: chlorpheniramine, diphenhydramine, pheniramine, and tripolidine.
  • Expectorants - thin mucus so that it can more easily be coughed up. Example:guaifenesin.
  • Antitussives - suppress a cough. Example: dextromethorphan.
  • Decongestants - shrink nasal passages and reduce congestion. Administered either orally or by nasal spray. Examples: pseudophedrine, ephedrine, and phenylephrine.

What happens if I need to be hospitalized?

Most likely, we will admit you to Piedmont Hospital, if you need to be hospitalized. Rossi & Shirey Medical has been affiliated with Piedmont Hospital since 1994. Piedmont Hospital is one of the most highly ranked and convenient hospitals in Atlanta.

While you are hospitalized, you will be cared for by a "hospitalist" (a board-certified Internist who specializes in taking care of hospitalized patients). Hospitalists are available in the hospital 24 hours a day, seven days a week. The hospitalist will see you and coordinate your care with us on a daily basis.

For more information, go to Piedmont Hospital.


2005 Rossi & Shirey MD, PC