Winter Health: Cold and Flu Q&A

In the winter people tend to huddle together inside more often to stay warm and thus we pass along illness more easily. Respiratory diseases (cold and flu) are some of the most common winter health problems experienced by most people. But is that stuffy nose really the common cold? Have you come down with the dreaded flu or are you just suffering from seasonal allergies? David Shelburne, MD, primary care physician, answered questions about the cold, the flu and other winter respiratory diseases.

How do I know if I have a cold vs. the flu?

It is nearly impossible to tell the difference based on your symptoms. Generally, the flu will cause more severe cold symptoms such as high fever, muscle aches and fatigue.

How do I know if I have a cold or am just suffering from seasonal allergies?

Allergies will typically persist longer than a cold and don’t generally involve fever or chills. All other cold symptoms, however, could be attributed to allergies.

Should I just rest and use over-the-counter drugs or do I need to see my doctor for a prescription?

Rest and over-the-counter medications are generally all that is needed to manage the symptoms of the cold or flu. If you have severe symptoms in the first 48 hours, you can see your physician to determine if flu medications are indicated for you. People that have heart, lung or immune system problems should certainly be seen early.

What can you take for a stuffed up nose if you have high blood pressure?

You want to avoid pseudoephedrine products like Sudafed, Claritin-D, Zyrtec-D and Allegra-D unless your doctor says it’s okay. Afrin (Oxymetazoline), nasal saline spray, nasal saline rinses or Neti pots can help relieve congestion.

Should I continue to exercise even when I am feeling under the weather?

Exercise is perfectly acceptable but do not push yourself as hard as normal. Give your body some time to rest and recuperate.

I have a fever. Should I see a doctor?

Not all fevers need to be seen. Use Tylenol or Ibuprofen to help control your fevers. If they persist, then see your primary care physician.

How do I stay healthy and prevent myself and my family from coming down with any of these illnesses?

Wash your hands frequently. Eat healthy and get regular exercise. Avoid crowded areas where there are lots of people who could pass you a viral infection.