Cold and Flu


The flu is a contagious respiratory illness caused by the virus, influenza. Flu season generally occurs from November to March. The flu attacks the body in the upper and lower respiratory tract.

The symptoms of the flu are closely related to those of the common cold, however, the flu is much worse. While a cold may slow you down, the flu may not even allow you to get out of bed. This can be especially true for those aged 65 years or older. While the average adult might be stuck in bed with aches and pains for a couple days, older adults find themselves at increased risks for falls, injuries, and complications. It is critical that you know the symptoms of influenza and its complications to keep the flu season from turning deadly.

Cold & Flu Symptoms

It is important for you and your loved one to know the symptoms or signs you should be looking for so that you can prevent the flu from becoming deadly. Flu symptoms will start 1 to 4 days after being infected. Cold & flu symptoms in the elderly include:

  • Cough
  • Fever
  • Fatigue
  • Sore throat
  • A runny nose or congestion
  • Body aches or pain
  • Headaches

Usually, only children will have stomach symptoms such as nausea, vomiting, or diarrhea, but it is possible for adults to show these symptoms as well.

Causes of Cold & Flu

The seasonal flu is one of the most common illnesses. The flu is a contagious condition that spreads from person to person and generally affects groups of people spending time in close contact in places like schools, military barrack, offices and nursing homes. As you get older, your body’s immune system decreases, making it harder to fight off infections.

Many of us remember to wash our hands after we sneeze or a cough, but here is a list of other items you may touch often and transfer germs into your body:

  • Doorknobs
  • Elevator buttons
  • Shopping cart handles
  • Telephones
  • The faucet where you wash your hands

Cold & Flu Diagnosis

If you find you are experiencing many of the aforementioned symptoms, you may have the flu. If you go to a doctor, they will probably diagnose you by evaluating your symptoms, but there are also lab tests that can be done to confirm a diagnosis. There are rapid tests that will tell you if you have the illness, but the accuracy and sensitivity of these tests vary. Even if you get a negative rapid test result, your doctor may still diagnose you with the flu based on your symptoms and their best clinical judgment.

Treating Cold & Flu

For seniors, it is important that they take steps to prevent the flu, as it can quickly turn into pneumonia, bronchitis, or another complication. The best way to do this is to make sure your senior receives a flu shot.

There is no real “cure” for the flu other than to get rest and drink plenty of fluids, but there are a number of over-the-counter treatments that will help lessen some of your symptoms. Depending on what you or your senior loved one is experiencing, one or more of these treatment options may work for you.

Before starting any type of cold & flu treatment, be sure to speak to your senior’s primary care physician for guidance on the safest treatment plan.

Antiviral flu drugs

In some cases, a doctor may prescribe antiviral medicines to decrease the duration and symptoms of the flu. Though they may have benefits if taken during later stages of the flu, it works best when taken within 48 hours of your first symptoms. There are side effects, so make sure you talk about them with your doctor if you want to use antiviral flu drugs for your elder loved one’s treatment.

For nasal or sinus congestion

A decongestant is helpful in reducing the swelling within the nasal passageways and come in nasal spray or oral forms. If using a nasal spray, it should not be used for more than a few days. If nasal sprays are used for an extended period of time and then stopped, the symptoms may reemerge.

If you have high blood pressure and need a decongestant, be sure to talk to your doctor about safe options. Some decongestants may have a negative reaction with some blood pressure medications.

For runny noses or itchy, watery eyes

Antihistamines help to relieve the sneezing, itching, and watering eyes that may come along with the flu. OTC antihistamines tend to make people drowsy, which is the opposite effect of decongestants. Be sure to talk to your doctor about the effects of any interaction an OTC drug may have with other drugs you may be taking.

For coughing

There are numerous kinds of cough medicines available OTC. These cough medicines will have some type of combination of decongestants, antihistamines, cough suppressants, analgesics, and more. Be sure to talk to your doctor to determine which cough medication you can safely take.

For fevers and body aches

When taking acetaminophen, ibuprofen, or naproxen for fever or pain relief, take caution because many other cold/flu medications already have these drug mixed in. If you don’t know that your flu medication already contains a fever and pain reducer, you may overdose.

Like with all other OTC drugs, you should check with your doctor or pharmacist about possible adverse reactions with other medications or prescriptions that you or your senior loved one is taking.

For a sore throat

To relieve a sore throat, lots of fluids and warm salt-water gargles are methods to reduce your symptoms without med. There also many different over-the-counter throat relief sprays, lozenges, and gargles that will alleviate your older loved one’s symptoms temporarily.

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Frequently Asked Questions

My father has had a cough for sometime now. He insists it's just a cold, but we're worried it could be more. Could it be walking pneumonia?

Yes, it is possible that it could be walking pneumonia, but it could even just be a lingering symptom of a cold like your dad said. However, it is important to know when a cough is more than just a cough because it could actually be a more serious condition like the walking pneumonia you suggested, or chronic obtrusive pulmonary disease (COPD).

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How do I cure a cold?

Common colds are easily remedied especially in the early stages. Cold treatments can be found at any drug store and are considered over the counter medication. Decongestant sprays and cough syrups are the most common over the counter medications used to treat common colds. Pain relievers are also used for headaches associated with the illness. Often, medications are combined to treat all cold symptoms. Natural medications are also available.

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