Cold and Flu

Understanding, preventing and treating flu and cold symptoms

Although a bad cold can make you feel miserable, it does not pose the same health risks as the flu. A cold can settle into the chest, the head or the sinuses, but the flu is more pervasive and more severe. Cold treatment usually revolves around comfort and rest, but how you handle the flu will depend on age, the severity of the symptoms and whether there are preexisting conditions. As the saying goes, an ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure: the flu vaccine will help sidestep the virus, or at least decrease one's chances of developing a bad case of the flu. But is it the right course of action for everyone? Learn some important facts about cold and flu, the vaccine and what to do if your child comes down with a case of the flu.

Is it the Flu Virus or the Common Cold?

Mistaking the flu for a cold is a very common error, and it can be a dangerous one. Although healthy people will usually fight off both the cold and the flu virus naturally, allowing a bad case of the flu to go unchecked can lead into dangerous territory for those with compromised or immature immune systems. This means that while you may suffer with the flu for a week or two, the effects your child experiences can be much worse. Sometimes symptoms of the flu resemble those of a cold, but in most cases, the severity of the symptoms will help you diagnose the illness. Here are some questions to ask when your child becomes sick:

If you can answer "yes" to more than one of those questions, you're probably dealing with the flu. High fever can be particularly serious, and if the thermometer reads 104 or above, you should seek medical attention right away.

Cold and Flu Treatment

Plenty of fluids, warmth and rest should be part of any treatment plan, and gentle fever reducers can help to reduce discomfort, too. Unfortunately, there are no easy cures for either illness -- you have to simply let the virus run its course. However, for young infants and severely ill kids that contract the flu, doctors often prescribe an antiviral medicine that can ease symptoms. The catch is that this medication must be taken within 48 hours of the onset of the virus, so it's crucial that you speak with a doctor as soon as you suspect the flu.

About the Flu Vaccine

One popular belief is that the flu vaccine can cause the flu, but that is a myth. Since the vaccine is made with killed viruses (as opposed to the live form), it cannot get you sick. The most common side effects are soreness at the site of the needle, mild aches and short-lived, low-grade fever. It's best to get a flu shot before the peak months of flu season in order to give your body the chance to build good immunity to the virus. Health experts recommend that everyone older than 6 months should get the flu shot each year in the early to mid-autumn, but especially pregnant women, children younger than two years old and those with chronic medical conditions.

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