7 tips for weathering cold and flu season

Over the years, you’ve probably had many cold and flu viruses. But you may still be surprised by just how bad a cold or the flu can make you feel. And you may not remember what treatments work best or when to see a doctor. So here are the top 7 things, from prevention to treatment, you should know to help you sail through the cold and flu season.

1. Get your flu shot as soon as you can

Kaiser Permanente Washington Flu Shots

The flu vaccine prompts your body to develop antibodies that can guard against the flu. It’s important to get your flu shot as soon as you can, because it can take up to two weeks for the antibodies to develop enough to provide protection. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) advises everyone over 6 months old to receive the vaccination. Vaccines are effective for about a year until next flu season. At that time new flu strains will require a new vaccine.

2. Get care if you think you have the flu.

With the flu, you may feel any or all of these symptoms: chills, high fever, too tired to get up, or body aches. Flu hits you suddenly, while a cold comes on gradually with little or no fever.  Kaiser Permanente Washington members can call the 24/7 Consulting Nurse Service to see if your symptoms require an in-person visit. Another convenient option is CareClinic by Kaiser Permanente at 15 Bartell Drugs locations in the Puget Sound area.

It’s important to get a professional medical opinion if you have flu-like symptoms. The flu is a more serious viral infection than a cold, and can lead to complications like pneumonia. Anti-viral treatments  can shorten the virus’s duration if taken within 48 hours of onset.

3. Don’t take antibiotics for the flu.

For years patients have requested and received antibiotics for colds and flu. However, antibiotics kill bacteria that cause bacterial infections; they don’t kill viruses that cause colds or flu. In fact, antibiotics are ineffective against the flu and potentially harmful. Doctors have found increasing evidence that some bacterial infections no longer respond to standard antibiotics. It’s believed this resistance is a result of people taking antibiotics for viral infections like the flu.

4. Your body’s defenses need time and support.

If you get the flu, drink, rest, and treat the symptoms. Rest helps build up your immune system. Liquids prevent dehydration. And over-the-counter medications provide temporary relief from fever, sinus congestion, and cough. Also, help avoid the spread of the virus by washing your hands regularly, since you could be contagious for about a week.

5. Over-the-counter medications are not always harmless.

Acetaminophen, which is found in products such as Tylenol and NyQuil can cause serious liver damage. The most you should take in any 24-hour period is 4 grams (4,000 mg). So check labels to know what you’re taking. Don’t double-up on doses or take multiple cold medicines.

6. Take single-ingredient medications that treat specific symptoms.

Antihistamines such as Benadryl help relieve a running nose and sneezing. However, they depress the nervous system and can make you drowsy. So don’t take them before driving or in situations where you need to be alert.

Decongestants containing pseudoephedrine, such as Sudafed, help open up your sinuses but make you jittery. So don’t take them before bed. Decongestants shouldn’t be used by people with high blood pressure, or by people taking diet pills that have stimulating ingredients such as caffeine.

7. There is no cure for the flu or colds.

When your body fights off a virus that causes a cold or flu, it develops immunity against that virus —but only that particular virus. More than 200 viruses cause colds and flu, and these viruses mutate quickly. That’s why colds are so common, and why the flu shot formula has to change every year. So get your vaccine to help protect against the flu. If you do get sick, give your body time to heal and seek medical care if symptoms persist.