Your Ultimate Cold and Flu Survival Guide

December 02, 2022

A sick lady laying on a sofa

While viruses can attack year-round, colds, flus and other respiratory illnesses are typically more prevalent during fall and winter. People spend more time indoors, which allows viruses to pass more easily from one person to another. The cold, dry air can also affect the respiratory system, making it more susceptible to germs. According to the CDC, flu activity in the U.S. often begins to increase in October and peaks between December and February. “Flu season” can last as late as May. 

When it comes to the cold and flu, prevention and preparation are key. Getting the flu shot and a COVID-19 vaccine is the first and most crucial step in protecting against these two respiratory illnesses. Preventative actions, such as washing your hands, covering your mouth and nose when coughing or sneezing and getting enough sleep can also help you avoid getting sick. However, despite your best prevention efforts, the time may come this winter when you start to feel a little scratch in your throat or a fever coming on. By taking steps ahead of time to assemble a cold and flu survival kit, you’ll be more prepared for whenever illness strikes, allowing you to stay home, rest and avoid spreading germs. 

Tips for Managing Symptoms

Keep these tips in mind to ease your cold or flu symptoms:

  • Stay home and rest
  • Drink plenty of fluids
  • Treat aches and fever with over-the-counter medication such as ibuprofen or acetaminophen
  • Manage a cough with over-the-counter expectorants or suppressants 
  • Run a humidifier or sit in a steamy bathroom to ease congestion

What to Stock in Your Flu Survival Kit

Be ready when a cold or the flu strikes by having a flu survival kit filled with these get-well essentials stocked in your pantry, fridge and medicine cabinet:

Over-the-Counter Medications:

Take advantage of over-the-counter medications to make yourself feel better and ease most common flu symptoms of fever, headache, cough, muscle aches, sore throat, and runny or stuffy nose

  • Pain relievers - Ibuprofen (Motrin and Advil) or Acetaminophen (Tylenol): for fever and aches
  • Decongestants: for sniffles and congestion
  • Cough expectorant (guaifenesin): for a “wet” cough to help clear secretions from the lungs
  • Cough suppressant (dextromethorphan/DM): for a severe “dry” cough to block the cough reflex
  • Cough syrups and drops

Drinks:

  • Water
  • Herbal tea
  • Low-sugar sports drinks
  • Pedialyte

Foods:

  • Chicken soup
  • Broth
  • Vitamin C-containing fruits and vegetables
  • Oatmeal
  • Toast (add some avocado, honey or egg)

Miscellaneous items:

  • Tissues
  • Lozenges
  • Protective mask
  • Thermometer
  • Humidifier

When to Seek Care and Where to Go

Most healthy adults who have a cold, the flu, or other mild respiratory illnesses don’t need to see a care provider and will recover at home with self-care measures. Because these are viral illnesses, antibiotics won’t work against treating them. Your care provider may be able to prescribe an antiviral medication that can relieve your symptoms and shorten the duration and severity of your illness; however, this needs to be started within 48 hours of symptom onset and is often only prescribed to individuals at high risk for developing complications from the flu or those experience severe symptoms.

Primary Care or Urgent Care

Contact your primary care provider or visit an Urgent Care if you are at an increased risk, including those who:

  • Are 65 years of age or older
  • Have chronic medical conditions
  • Are pregnant or recently gave birth
  • Have a weakened immune system

Find a primary care provider

If you are otherwise healthy and not at increased risk of complications, seek medical advice if your flu symptoms are unusually severe, such as mild difficulty breathing, a severe sore throat, coughing that produces a lot of green or yellow mucus, or feeling faint.

Emergency Care

Go to the Emergency Department if you are experiencing emergency warning signs such as severe pain (chest, abdomen), concern for heart attack or stroke (slurred speech, new localized weakness), severe dehydration (needing IV fluids) or severe shortness of breath.

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