Your Cold and Flu Symptoms, Explained
There’s a reason for each and every sniffle, sneeze, ache, and pain. Learn why your body behaves the way it does, and discover the quickest ways to feel better.
The Symptom: Sneezing
When to worry: Almost never, but if sneezing interferes with your life or persists after other symptoms are gone, talk to your doctor to find out if an allergy might be the cause.
Home remedies: Using Kleenex Anti-Viral tissues helps prevent the spread of viruses. No tissue? Sneeze into your upper sleeve, not your hands. You’ll be less likely to pass germs along.
Over-the-counter remedies: Some antihistamines (the sedating varieties) can help cut down on the sneeze reflex. But most experts advise you to leave this fairly innocuous symptom untreated.
The Symptom: Chills and Fever
When to worry: Call your doctor if your temperature rises above 102 degrees, if a fever persists for 72 hours without breaking, or if you also have shortness of breath or dizziness.
Home remedies: To stay hydrated, sip your favorite liquids. Sponging off with warm water may also give you relief.
Over-the-counter remedies: Acetaminophen (Tylenol), ibuprofen (Advil, Motrin), or naproxen (Aleve) can lower a fever that’s making you uncomfortable.
The Symptom: Sore Throat
When to worry: If you have severe difficulty swallowing or breathing, call your doctor to rule out a more serious illness, such as a bacterial infection.
Home remedies: Gargle with warm salt water. Soothe a scratchy throat with liquids, such as caffeine-free tea and broth, or cool down a fiery one with an ice pop.
Over-the-counter remedies: Acetaminophen or ibuprofen will help decrease inflammation.
The Symptom: Runny Nose
When to worry: If your health doesn’t improve after one week, you could have a bacterial sinus infection, which may require treatment with an antibiotic.
Home remedies: Drink fluids to thin mucus. Chicken soup may help reduce inflammation. Sniff gently into a tissue, as blowing hard can lead to sinus problems.
Over-the-counter remedies: Use a saline spray to help irrigate your nasal passages, or use an oral decongestant or an antihistamine (like Drixoral or Benadryl).
The Symptom: Sinus Pressure
When to worry: If you have a fever of more than 102 degrees, you may have a bacterial infection, which can be treated with antibiotics.
Home remedies: Keep your sinuses moist by using a humidifier, or stand over a sink filled with hot water.
Over-the-counter remedies: A decongestant spray (such as Dristan or Afrin) can help ease congestion and swelling.
The Symptom: Cough
When to worry: If you’re short of breath and coughing up blood or discolored mucus, you may have bronchitis, sinusitis, or pneumonia.
Home remedies: Skip the medicated cough drops; they have been proven ineffective. Instead, soothe an irritated throat with your favorite hard candy, or drink warm fluids.
Over-the-counter remedies: Products with pseudoephedrine work but can make you sleepy. Nondrowsy versions with phenylephrine aren’t as effective. Naproxen may reduce throat inflammation.
The Symptom: Swollen Glands
When to worry: If your glands remain enlarged for several weeks after a cold or the flu is gone, that could be, in rare cases, a sign of a more serious illness, such as lymphoma.
Home remedies: There’s not much you can do to reduce swollen glands. They should return to normal within a few weeks.
Over-the-counter remedies: Other cold or flu symptoms will probably bother you more, but acetaminophen or ibuprofen can ease any discomfort caused by the engorged glands.
The Symptom: Body Aches
When to worry: Only if the aches are incapacitating, which is rarely the case with a cold or the flu.
Home remedies: Get plenty of rest, and take warm baths to soothe your muscles―or try using a heating pad or a heated water bottle.
Over-the-counter remedies: Acetaminophen or ibuprofen will relieve the pain.