By Family Circle Health Editors
Photo by Kate Sears

Know the difference.

Cold: Symptoms, caused by rhinoviruses, develop gradually and last 7 to 10 days (if longer, see your doctor). Usually induces sneezing, runny nose, sore throat.

Flu: Symptoms, caused by influenza viruses, start abruptly and last a week or two. Usually induces aches, chills, headache, fever, fatigue. Talk to your MD if you have a chronic condition like asthma or diabetes.

7 Prevention Tips

  • Get a flu shot.
  • Keep hands away from eyes, nose, and mouth. 
  • Clean and disinfect surfaces.
  • Wash hands often.
  • Stay warm and hydrated.
  • Sleep at least seven hours every day.
  • Avoid crowds (as best you can).

Take a sick day.

“People try to tough it out and go to work despite having a cold or the flu,” says Akiko Iwasaki, PhD, professor of immunobiology at Yale School of Medicine. “Not only is this unpleasant and dangerous for the person who is ill, it can also spread the viruses to coworkers.” Instead of pushing yourself, be a real hero and stay home. Rest up and return to work and outside errands when you’re feeling better—and at least 24 hours after a fever disappears. 

Stock your medicine cabinet.

“Choose medicines based on the symptoms you want to treat,” advises Iwasaki. These new products alleviate the most troubling ones.

Theraflu PowerPods

Brew a cold remedy from pods that fit most single-serve coffee machines.

DayQuil or NyQuil + VapoCool Severe

Symptom relief plus cooling sensations.

Sudafed PE Pain + Pressure + Cough Liquid

The brand’s first liquid formulation for adults who struggle with swallowing pills.

CVS Children’s Cold Remedies

This new line of liquid cold meds is free of alcohol, dyes and artificial sweeteners.

3 Facts About Handwashing

It doesn’t matter if water is warm or cold.

To really get them clean, scrub hands for 20 seconds (long enough to sing “Happy Birthday” twice). 

Studies aren’t conclusive, but the CDC recommends a clean towel or air-drying (as opposed to electric dryers, which may spread germs) as the most hygienic way to dry. 

Source: CDC

Good to know

“Antibiotics won’t help you recover from a cold or the flu as they don’t work against viruses,” says Angela Campbell, MD, MPH, a medical officer in the CDC’s Influenza Division. There’s no cure for colds, but your doctor may prescribe an antiviral like Tamiflu to fight the flu, especially if you’re at high risk for complications.