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Common cold

The common cold generally involves a runny nose, nasal congestion, and sneezing. You may also have a sore throat, cough, headache, or other symptoms.

Learn more about the common cold in our health encyclopedia.

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Influenza and flu shots

Commonly known as the flu, influenza is a respiratory (nose, throat, lungs) illness cause by influenza viruses (germs). An annual flu shot is one of the best ways to avoid a bad case of the flu.

Learn more about influenza and flu shots.

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Fever

Fever is the temporary increase in the body's temperature, in response to some disease or illness.

Learn more about fever in our health encyclopedia.

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Headache

A headache is pain or discomfort in the head, scalp, or neck.

Learn more about headache in our health encyclopedia.

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Stuffy nose

A stuffy nose can be due to colds, allergies, sinus infections or the flu. The sensation of a stuffy nose occurs when the membranes that line the nose become swollen.

Learn more about runny and stuffy nose in our health encyclopedia.

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Sore throat

A sore throat is discomfort, pain, or scratchiness in the throat. A sore throat often makes it painful to swallow.

Learn more about sore throat in our health encyclopedia.

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Cough

Coughing is an important way to keep your throat and airways clear. However, excessive coughing may mean you have an illness.

Learn more about coughs in our health encyclopedia.

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Earache

An earache can be a sharp, dull, or burning pain in one or both ears.

Learn more about earache in our health encyclopedia.

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Bronchitis

Bronchitis is inflammation of the main air passages to the lungs.

Learn more about bronchitis in our health encyclopedia.

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Pneumonia

Pneumonia is a respiratory condition in which there is inflammation of the lung.

Learn more about pneumonia in our health encyclopedia.

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Respiratory syncytial virus (RSV)

Respiratory syncytial virus (RSV) is a very common virus that leads to mild, cold-like symptoms in adults and older healthy children. It can be more serious in young babies.

Learn more about RSV in our health encyclopedia.

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Pertussis

Pertussis is a highly contagious bacterial disease that causes uncontrollable, violent coughing. The coughing can make it hard to breathe. A deep "whooping" sound is often heard when the patient tries to take a breath.

Learn more about whooping cough in our health encyclopedia.

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Severe acute respiratory syndrome (SARS)

Severe acute respiratory syndrome (SARS) is a serious form of pneumonia caused by a virus. Infection with the SARS virus results in severe breathing difficulty and sometimes death.

Learn more about SARS in our health encyclopedia.

Do you have a cold or the flu?

These general guidelines can help determine if you have the common cold or the flu.

Symptom

Cold

Flu

fever

rare

102 to 104 degrees Fahrenheit; lasts three to four days

headache

rare

yes

general aches, pains

slight

yes; often early on

extreme exhaustion

never

rare

stuffy nose

common

sometimes

sneezing

usual

sometimes

sore throat

common

sometimes

chest discomfort, cough

mild to moderate; hacking cough

common; can become severe

complications (problems)

sinus congestion or earache

bronchitis or pneumonia; can be life-threatening

Prevention

Use good respiratory and hand hygiene to stop the spread of germs.

Get a seasonal flu vaccine each year.

Treatment

Consider over-the-counter medicine for temporary relief of symptoms.

Ask your doctor about antiviral medicines if you are pregnant or if you have a chronic (long-lasting) illness.

Stop the spread of germs that make you and others sick

Get a flu shot.
Annual influenza vaccinations are available by appointment at most Allina clinics.
Schedule flu shots online with MyChart.

Clinic or hospital visit tips

While you are visiting a health care facility: 

  • If you cannot get to a sink to wash your hands, please ask your health care provider for a waterless alcohol handrub.
  • Please ask your health care provider if he or she cleansed his or her hands before touching you. Your provider will cleanse his or her hands with a waterless alcohol handrub or with soap and water.
  • Before you or anyone else handles your baby, make sure hands are cleansed.

If you are coughing or sneezing,you may be asked to put on a surgical mask to protect others.

Serious respiratory illness like influenza (the flu), respiratory syncytial virus (RSV), whooping cough (pertussis), and severe acute respiratory syndrome (SARS) are spread by:

  • coughing or sneezing
  • having unclean hands.

To help stop the spread of germs:

  • Cover your mouth and nose with a tissue when you cough or sneeze.
  • If you don't have a tissue, cough or sneeze into your upper sleeve, not your hands.
  • Put the used tissue in the waste basket.
  •  

Cleansing your hands is the easiest way to reduce the risk of spreading germs that cause infections.

  • Wash your hands regularly.  
  • Wash your hands after using the bathroom, blowing your nose, coughing, sneezing, or before eating.

Source: Allina Health's Patient Education Department, Do You Have a Cold or the Flu?, ic-ahc-14554
Reviewed by: Allina Health's Patient Education Department
First Published: 09/25/2009
Last Reviewed: 09/18/2012