Cold or flu, and what to do?

December 7, 2019

Common Cold

box of tissuesCold symptoms usually begin with a sore throat, which usually goes away after a day or two. Nasal symptoms, runny nose, and congestion follow, along with a cough by the fourth and fifth days. Fever is uncommon in adults, but a slight fever is possible. Children are more likely to have a fever with a cold. The nasal discharge is usually clear and watery initially, but frequently will become dark yellow and thick as the cold progresses. This does not necessarily mean that you have a bacterial infection, but is just the natural progression of the cold. Cold symptoms usually last for about a week to 10 days.


Flu symptoms are usually more severe than cold symptoms and come on very quickly. Symptoms of flu include sudden onset of sore throat, fever of over 101 degrees, headache, muscle aches and soreness, congestion, and cough. There may be associated with vomiting and diarrhea. Flu symptoms typically start with a sudden fever and muscle aches. Often patients will be able to tell the hour that symptoms began. Flu symptoms typically improve over the course of a week, but the fatigue may linger for several weeks more.

Flu shots are available beginning in October at Thomas Chittenden Health Center, as well as at area pharmacies and flu clinics. If you have an upcoming appointment with your health care provider, you can get the flu shot at that visit.

When do I call my Primary Care Provider with flu or cold symptoms?

While most patients with the cold or flu will get better with time, there are some symptoms that may indicate that it is time to call your health care provider:

Persistent fever: A fever of over 100 degrees lasting more than three to five days can be a sign of another bacterial infection that should be treated.

Painful swallowing: Although a sore throat from a cold or flu can cause mild discomfort, severe pain could mean strep throat, especially if it is associated with a fever and headache.

Persistent coughing: When a cough doesn’t go away after two or three weeks, it could be something other than a typical cold or flu.

Persistent congestion and headaches: When colds and allergies cause congestion and blockage of sinus passages, they can lead to a sinus infection (sinusitis). If you have pain around the eyes and face with thick nasal discharge after a week, you may have a bacterial sinus infection and possibly need an antibiotic. Most sinus infections, however, do not need an antibiotic.

Online Resources

For more information on the flu shot:

For other tips to on cold and flu prevention:

For information on who should get antiviral flu treatment:

For information on when to be seen in the Emergency Room: