Colds and influenza will set you back for a while, but ordinarily resolve in 1-2 weeks. It's a good idea to isolate yourself for the first few days of your acute respiratory illness. This will help keep the spread of infection to a minimum.
Taking extra care will help prevent the disease from spreading or worsening any other health conditions, especially if you are elderly or ill. Even a cold, and certainly influenza, can put you at greater risk of complications, such as heart or respiratory failure.
If you have diabetes, your blood sugar balance will need extra attention. If you have heart or chronic respiratory disease or other chronic illness, adjustments in medication or other treatments may be required to compensate for the added stress of the acute illness.
Get plenty of rest and stay warm. Drink extra liquids. This helps give your body a chance to focus its energy on combating the disease. Also, be sure to eat well and provide your body with the proper nutrition it needs to help fight off the infection.
Keep your airways clear of secretions, which will increase during your acute illness and could lead to pneumonia. If you smoke or have allergies or chronic lung disease, you may not handle these secretions well. There are several ways to help clear your airways of excess secretions:
Aspirin, nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs), and acetaminophen reduce fever while they relieve body aches and headache. Other pain relievers do not lower fevers. Remember that children and adolescents should NOT take aspirin during a viral infection.
Soaking in a lukewarm bath or warm swimming pool may also help you feel better. Warm water baths with temperatures around 80°F (degrees Fahrenheit) are still well below your body temperature. This is a good way to lower a fever in a child only if closely supervised by an adult.
Many other symptoms can be dealt with by taking certain medications.
If you have a common cold or influenza, you may need to ride it out with the measures listed above and over-the-counter medications. However, be aware of these signs that your cold or influenza is transforming into a more serious condition:
Common cold. Merck Manual Professional Version website. Available at: http://www.merckmanuals.com/professional/infectious-diseases/respiratory-viruses/common-cold. Updated April 2014. Accessed August 15, 2017.
Influenza. Merck Manual Professional Version website. Available at: http://www.merckmanuals.com/professional/infectious-diseases/respiratory-viruses/influenza. Updated April 2014. Accessed August 15, 2017.
Influenza in adults. EBSCO DynaMed Plus website. Available at:http://www.dynamed.com/topics/dmp~AN~T435301/Influenza-in-adults. Updated September 27, 2016. Accessed August 15, 2017.
Schroeder K, Fahey R. Systematic review of randomised controlled trials of over the counter cough medicines for acute cough in adults. BMJ.2002;324(7333):1-6.
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7/6/2011 DynaMed Plus Systematic Literature SurveillanceUpper-respiratory-infection-URI-in-children: Paul IM, Beiler JS, King TS, Clapp ER, Vallati J, Berlin CM Jr. Vapor rub, petrolatum, and no treatment for children with nocturnal cough and cold symptoms. Pediatrics. 2010;126(6):1092-1099.
Last reviewed September 2018 by David L. Horn, MD, FACP Last Updated: 9/17/2014