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Care of colds, coughs, and the flu


You may notice some symptoms, such as a runny nose, cough, or sore throat, and wonder if it is a cold, cough, flu, or even COVID-19. Read below for information on how to prevent these illnesses, how to care for yourself when you are sick, and when to seek medical care.

How to stay healthy

  • Wash your hands often with soap and water.
  • Don’t have soap? Use an alcohol-based hand sanitizer.
  • Cover your nose and mouth when you cough or sneeze.
  • Throw your used tissues in the trash. Then wash your hands.
  • Avoid touching your eyes, nose, or mouth.
  • Do not share towels, utensils, cups, straws, etc.
  • Get a flu shot every year in the fall.

Self-care for a cold

  • Drink fluids such as water, soup, fruit juice, tea, warm, or broth.
  • Suck on cough drops to moisten your throat. Gargle with warm salt water every few hours (1/4 tsp of salt).
  • Avoid alcoholic /caffeinated drinks.
  • Use acetaminophen (Tylenol®) or ibuprofen (Advil®) as directed for pain or fever. DO NOT USE ASPIRIN.
  • If you have a fever, place a cool washcloth over your forehead and/or behind your neck.
  • Use a decongestant (to alleviate or dry up mucus in the head, nose, and throat).
  • Do not bundle up in heavy clothes.
  • Elevate your head with extra pillows at night.

Self-care for a cough

For a productive cough (i.e., a cough that brings up mucus or phlegm)

  • Drink plenty of liquids and use a vaporizer or hot shower steam to loosen congestion and thin mucus.
  • Take an expectorant, such as Robitussin. Do not take a cough suppressant to suppress a cough so much that you are no longer bringing up mucus.
  • Stop smoking and stay away from places where people are smoking.
  • Drink 8 oz. of fluids (fruit juice, water, soup, or other replenishing liquids) every few hours to replace fluids lost through “invisible” perspiration.

For a non-productive cough (i.e., a dry cough that does not bring up mucus)

  • Drink plenty of fluids. Hot beverages with honey soothe the throat.
  • Take an over-the-counter cough suppressant with dextromethorphan.
  • Take a decongestant, such as Sudafed, if you have a post-nasal drip.
  • Suck on cough drops, lozenges, or hard candy to soothe and moisten a dry, irritated throat.

When to seek medical care

  • You have a fever that is 101 degrees Fahrenheit or higher that persists for more than two days.
  • You cough up bloody, brown, or green mucus.
  • You experience shortness of breath or severe chest pains.
  • You experience a cough that lasts longer than 10 days to 2 weeks.
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