Although both are caused by viruses, there are more than 200 different varieties that can cause colds. Not as many viruses cause the flu.
There's no cure for the common cold. All you can do to feel better is treat your symptoms while your body fights off the virus. Some ways to alleviate symptoms of both the cold and the flu:
- Get plenty of rest, especially while you have a fever.
- Stop smoking and avoid secondhand smoke, which can aggravate symptoms.
- Drink lots of fluids to help loosen mucus and prevent dehydration.
- Use a humidifier to add moisture to dry air.
- Gargle with warm salt water a few times a day to relieve a sore throat. Throat sprays or lozenges may also help relieve pain.
- Avoid alcohol.
No over-the-counter medicine can cure a cold or the flu. But they can help relieve symptoms. Always check with your doctor before giving any medicine to children. What to look for:
- Analgesics relieve aches and pains and reduce fever. Examples include acetaminophen, aspirin, ibuprofen, ketoprofen and naproxen. Warning: Children and teenagers shouldn't be given aspirin or other salicylates because these can cause a Reye's Syndrome, a disease with sometimes fatal consequences. If you aren't sure if a product has salicylates, ask your doctor or pharmacist.
- Antitussives (cough suppressants) tell your brain to stop coughing, but don't take one if you're coughing up mucus.
- Expectorants loosen mucus so it can be coughed up more easily.
- Decongestants shrink nasal passages, reducing congestion.
- Antihistamines stop runny nose and sneezing by blocking the compound histamine
If you have a severe case of the flu, your doctor may prescribe an antiviral medicine, which can help shorten disease duration.