by Polsdorfer R

Colds and flu usually last 1 to 2 weeks. Staying away from others for the first few days helps reduce the spread of infection.

Taking extra care will help keep other health conditions from getting worse. In people who are older or ill, a cold or flu can raise the risk of other problems. Examples are heart or respiratory failure.

A cold or flu adds extra stress to the body. Those with diabetes need to pay extra attention to blood sugar balance. Those with lung or other health problems may need adjustments to medicines and other treatments.

General Guidelines for Managing Colds and Flu

Get plenty of rest and stay warm. Drink extra liquids. Also, be sure to eat well. This helps your body focus its energy on fighting the disease.

Managing Respiratory Congestion

Keep your airways clear of mucous. Excess mucous could lead to pneumonia. Excess mucous can be a problem for people who smoke, have allergies or long-term lung disease. To help clear the airways of mucous:

  • Use a humidifier—A cold mist vaporizer or steamy shower adds moisture to the air. Breathing in moist air helps thin mucous so it can be coughed up.
  • Cough when needed—Cough as long as there is something coming up.
  • Consider cough drops and warm drinks to soothe your throat.
  • If needed, do exercises to help loosen up congestion. If you have a long term lung disease, certain positions can make it easier to cough up mucous. A respiratory therapist can help.
  • Use vapor rubs—Vapor rubs contain camphor, menthol, and eucalyptus oils. They can be applied to the neck and chest. They may help ease nighttime symptoms, especially in children.
Managing Fever

Certain medicines reduce fever, and ease body aches and headache. They include aspirin, nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs), and acetaminophen. Other pain relievers do not lower fevers. Children and adolescents should NOT take aspirin during a viral infection.

Soaking in a lukewarm water may also help you feel better. It is also a good way to lower a fever in a child. Children should be watched closely by an adult.

Many other symptoms can be dealt with by taking certain medicines.

When to Contact Your Doctor

Call your doctor if you have:

  • New symptoms, or any symptoms that last longer than 10 days
  • A high or lasting fever (over 101 °F for colds, any fever beyond 3 to 4 days for the flu)
  • Yellow, green, or bloody secretions from your lungs
  • Pain in the ears, sinuses, head, or chest
  • Yellow secretions on your tonsils
  • Problems eating, drinking, or swallowing
  • Problems breathing
  • Confusion or loss of alertness


Common cold. Merck Manual Professional Version website. Available at: Accessed March 9, 2022.

Influenza. Merck Manual Professional Version website. Available at: Accessed March 9, 2022.

Influenza in adults. EBSCO DynaMed website. Available at: Accessed March 9, 2022.

Upper respiratory infection (URI) in adults and adolescents. EBSCO DynaMed website. Available at: Accessed March 9, 2022.

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