Cold and Flu Season Checklist

Cold and flu season peaks in December through February. Here's how to prep—and what you should do if you do get sick.

Before Cold and Flu Season

  • Get your flu shot.

    A flu shot is your best defense against getting the flu, and it'll reduce the severity of your symptoms if you do happen to get sick. (Try these tips to make sure your flu shot is even more effective.)

  • Check your medicine cabinet.

    Make sure that your over-the-counter medications like pain relievers and decongestants haven't expired, that you have a bottle of nasal spray for everyone in the family, and that your digital thermometer still works.

  • Shop for cleaning supplies.

    You'll want disinfecting wipes or cleansers, hand sanitizer, and other cleaning essentials.

  • Get your favorite flu and cold home remedies.

    Stock up on canned, jarred, or frozen soups, crackers, tea, cough drops, and anything else you like to eat or drink when you're feeling lousy.

Cold and flu conceptual still life.
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During Cold and Flu Season

  • Give everything a good scrub down daily.

    Use your wipes on high-touch surfaces like doorknobs, light switches, drawer pulls, and faucets to help reduce the spread if someone gets sick.

  • Keep your family healthy.

    Make sure you're getting plenty of rest, eating a well-balanced diet, and exercising to keep your body (and immune system) in peak form.

  • Stop touching your face.

    Cold and flu germs are often spread when you touch a contaminated surface, then rub your eyes or touch your mouth.

  • Wash your hands.

    Remember to give them a good scrub for at least 30 seconds, as often as possible.

If You Get Sick With the Flu

  • Stay home if you're feeling under the weather.

    It may be too late for you, but you can stop the spread of the virus by staying home and resting.

  • Be careful of double dosing.

    If you're taking a cold and flu remedy and a painkiller, make sure you aren't double dosing with the same active ingredients. Many cold and flu remedies contain ibuprofen or acetaminophen—so you'll end up taking too much if you take those pills as well. And scores of products, including cough suppressants and medicated cough drops, contain dextromethorphan (DXM). Take more than the recommended dose of DXM and you may feel woozy or experience an irregular heartbeat and temporary high blood pressure.

  • Cover your mouth and nose when you cough.

    Avoid spreading the germs by covering your mouth and nose (or better yet, wear a mask).

  • Don't bother asking for antibiotics.

    Antibiotics are useless against the viruses that cause colds and flus. They're effective only in fighting infections, which are caused by bacteria. Doctors say that taking antibiotics inappropriately contributes to antibiotic resistance, a growing health crisis that makes new strains of infectious diseases more difficult to treat.

  • Consider asking for antivirals.

    Antiviral medications can be helpful if you take them early in the onset of the flu—they can reduce the severity of the symptoms and shorten your illness by a day or two.

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