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Flu and Cold Symptoms and Treatment

If you have cold or flu symptoms, it’s important to get checked by a health care provider as soon as possible. Often, the key to shorter flus and colds is early treatment with antiviral medicine. Our health care providers can perform a quick flu test and help you with the best treatment options.

Whether you visit a Banner Health urgent care clinic in person or speak with a provider through a virtual telehealth visit, we are here to support your well-being.

What is the flu?

The flu (influenza) is a contagious respiratory (breathing) illness caused by the influenza virus. This virus attacks the lungs, nose and throat and causes mild to severe symptoms.

The flu is most often spread through tiny droplets created when an infected person talks, coughs or sneezes. Infection occurs when the droplets are breathed in by another person. You can also catch the flu by touching high-traffic surfaces (such as door handles, countertops and light switches) that have been infected and then touching your nose, mouth or eyes. The influenza virus can live on surfaces for up to 24 hours.

Children and adults aged 65 and older can catch the flu more easily, however, people of all ages can be infected.

Flu symptoms

Symptoms of the flu usually appear within 1-4 days of exposure and may last for several days and up to two weeks.   

Common flu symptoms may include:

  • Fever (some people with the flu may not have a fever)
  • Chills
  • Cough
  • Sore throat
  • Runny and/or stuffy nose
  • Muscle and/or body aches
  • Headaches
  • Vomiting
  • Diarrhea

Protect yourself from the flu

The best way to protect yourself from the flu is by getting a flu shot every year. You can visit Banner Health urgent care to get a flu shot and most health insurances will cover the annual flu shot at no cost to you  .

Other easy steps you can take this flu season include:

  • Washing your hands often with warm water and soap
  • Avoiding people who are sick
  • Covering coughs and sneezes with a tissue or your elbow

Learn more about ways to slow the spread of the flu.

Flu treatment

Most cases of the flu can be treated at home. It’s important to rest and drink plenty of clear fluids (like water or broth). Over-the-counter (OTC) medicines may help ease your fever, aches, sore throat or cough. Your health care provider or a pharmacist can tell you which OTC medicines are right for you.

If you catch the flu, your health care provider may also be able to prescribe antiviral medicine. This medicine can help you get well faster and also make your symptoms easier to handle. If you are experiencing flu-like symptoms, it’s important to call your health care provider or an urgent care clinic immediately. Antiviral medicines must be started no later than two days (48 hours) after your flu symptoms start. 

What is a cold?

A cold is a common, mild illness that is caused by many different viruses. Like the flu, colds are spread through the air or by touching infected surfaces. Colds usually don’t cause serious health problems, but you should see a health care provider or visit urgent care if your cold symptoms do not get better within a few weeks.

Cold symptoms

Colds and the flu seem to have similar symptoms, but there are important differences. Cold symptoms are usually more mild than the flu, and people with colds often have a runny or stuffy nose.

Generally, symptoms of a cold begin two days after infection and can last three to seven days.

Common cold symptoms include:

  • Runny or stuffy nose
  • Sneezing
  • Coughing
  • Fatigue
  • Congestion
  • Mild fever
  • Mild headache

While there are no tests for colds, your doctor may recommend a flu test to make sure you don’t have the flu.

Treatment for colds

While there is no cure for a cold, there are many ways to make yourself feel better, such as:

  • Getting plenty of rest
  • Drinking lots of fluids, including tea and broth to help soothe your throat
  • Taking OTC medication like cough syrups, decongestants and antihistamines
  • Using saline nasal sprays
  • Adding moisture to the air with a humidifier

You can protect yourself from colds by:

  • Staying away from anyone who is sick
  • Washing your hands often with warm water and soap
  • Covering coughs or sneezes with a tissue or your elbow
  • Disinfecting shared surfaces
  • Taking care of yourself by getting enough rest, eating healthy foods and lowering your stress level

If your cold symptoms get worse or won’t go away, call your health care provider or visit one of our urgent care locations.