Arm Yourself Against Colds and the Flu

The flu and common cold seem very similar at first — they are both respiratory viruses and can cause similar symptoms. The difference is one is more serious than the other. There are things you can do to reduce your risk of getting the flu or colds. The same “healthy habits” can help you avoid both illnesses. Denver Health Medical Plan recommends that you get a flu shot each year. They also recommend you follow the tips below to stay healthy and prevent both.

Sick man in bed

Cold/ Flu Symptoms

Many symptoms can be the same for both colds and the flu. Cold symptoms can include congestion, sinus pressure, runny nose, stuffy nose, loss of smell or taste, sneezing, nasal secretions and postnasal drip. Flu symptoms to watch for include runny nose, cough, fever, sore throat, headache, body aches, vomiting and diarrhea. If you think you might have the flu or want to know if it’s just a bad cold, call the Denver Health NurseLine to help you manage your symptoms and feel better. If you have the flu, the NurseLine can screen you for Tamiflu treatment. This drug can shorten the duration of your flu symptoms, but it only works if you take it within 48 hours* of the beginning of your symptoms. You can get this prescription filled at any local pharmacy. If you begin Tamiflu treatment and have an allergic type reaction, stop the medication immediately and get medical attention right away.

Here are a few ways to help combat the cold and flu:

Cold Treatment

  • Gargling with saltwater
  • Drink plenty of water
  • Decongestants, antihistamine (Tylenol) or pain relievers as directed

Flu Treatment

  • Stay home and rest
  • Drink plenty of fluids
  • Take acetaminophen for fever and aches

When to See a Doctor

If you or a family member have these symptoms:

  • Trouble breathing
  • Pain or pressure in chest or belly
  • Suddenly dizziness
  • Confusion
  • Severe vomiting
  • Difficult to wake up
  • Fever with rash
  • Not drinking fluids

In both cases, be sure to 

  • Wash your hands often when anyone in the house is sick or hands are dirty. The whole family should wash hands with soap and water for 10 to 15 seconds many times each day. Wash hands before preparing food or eating and after using the bathroom or handling animals.
  • Avoid sharing drinks, food or eating utensils.
  • Keep hands away from the face. Viruses/germs enter the body through the mouth, nose or eyes. The face should not be touched unless the hands have been washed.
  • Keep your distance from people who are sick or aren’t feeling well.
  • Keep tissues handy for runny noses, coughs and sneezes. Cough/sneeze into the upper arm area if no tissues are available. Coughing into hands spreads germs.

*In certain situations, Tamiflu can be given after the 48-hour window (e.g., pregnant woman, those 65 and older and/or with chronic disease, cancer, diabetes, morbid obesity or immunosuppression.)

Denver Health Medical Plan Staff Writer