The main complications of the flu and the common cold are bacterial infections of the sinuses (sinusitis) or lungs (pneumonia). Symptoms of these complications include fever, chills, and yellow, green, or brown sputum or nasal discharge. Children may also develop ear infections (acute otitis media).
You should consult your doctor or health care professional if you or your child:
- belong to a high-risk group (e.g., people with other medical conditions such as asthma or COPD or weakened immune systems, the elderly, very young children)
- have severe throat pain or difficulty with swallowing
- have nasal congestion that lasts more than 7 days, if the discharge is green or yellow, or if there is severe facial pain or headache
- have a cough that lasts more than 3 weeks or involves vomiting
- have a fever (higher than 38.5°C) that lasts more than 3 days
- have a high fever (higher than 40.5°C)
- have difficulty breathing or chest pains, or make abnormal sounds while breathing
- are dehydrated (in infants, signs include decreased urination, crying without tears)
- have severe or persistent vomiting
- have severe headache, neck pain or stiffness, or light sensitivity
- have behavioural changes, including sudden lethargy, confusion, or irritability
- have a skin rash
- have symptoms of croup (e.g. barking, seal-like cough) or ear infection
There are a variety of prescription and non-prescription medications that are useful for relieving symptoms and for controlling pain. Consult your pharmacist or health care professional to determine which medication is the right one for you. Antibiotics are not effective for the flu or a cold. Antiviral medications may be helpful in reducing the duration of your flu, but they should be taken within 48 hours of developing symptoms.
Echinacea and zinc have been studied for treatment of the common cold. Evidence for their effectiveness is debatable.
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