You’ve all been there. That tell-tale tickle in your throat, the drippy nose that starts a cascade of sneezes, that sinking feeling when you realize, “Oh, no. I’m sick!” This early stage of cold and flu symptoms is no time to wait and see how bad it will get.
Early signs of the cold and flu include fever, headache, cough, congestion, sore throat, body aches, chills and/or exhaustion. If you treat your symptoms early enough, you may be able to prevent the virus from spreading to others or becoming worse.
The first 24 hours are critical. Read more to find out what to do when you feel the first signs of a cold or flu coming on.
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Tips for early cold and flu treatment:
Don’t Over-Exert Yourself
When you’re starting to feel sick, this is not the time to run a few miles or pull an all-nighter for a big project. It’s your chance to rest, recuperate, and let your body recover. Pushing your limits at this point will take away important energy your body needs to get better — and potentially increase the time it takes to get well.
Over the Counter Medicines Can Help
Early symptoms such as fever, headache, body aches, and sinus pain can be treated with pain-relievers like ibuprofen or acetaminophen. Be sure to read the label carefully and follow dosage recommendations exactly. Taking too little medication may not be effective — taking too much can be dangerous. Remember, doses for children vary based on their age and weight, and children under the age of 18 should not be given aspirin. It can cause a serious condition called Reye’s Syndrome.
Avoid Cold and Damp Environments
Although it’s a myth that you’ll get sick just from not bundling up when it’s cold outside, it’s true that bacteria and viruses thrive at cooler temperatures. So if you’re fighting a bug, it’s best to stay warm and dry.
Get Enough Sleep
In the first 24 hours of an illness, you should sleep as much as possible to give your body a chance to recover. Resist the urge to binge watch your favorite shows or stay up late catching up on emails. Go to bed!
Drink Plenty of Fluids
Staying hydrated is one of the best things you can do for your body while your immune system is gearing up for a fight. Water, decaffeinated tea, sport drinks, and sugar-free drinks are best. They can help fight dehydration associated with fever. Also, hot tea with lemon and honey can soothe congestion, sore throat, and cough.
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What do do if your cold or flu symptoms last longer than 24 hours
If your cold or flu symptoms don’t improve after 24 hours, you may want to consult a doctor. Multiple conditions (eg; flu, strep throat, bronchitis, covid, rsv) share similar symptoms. But while your fever, cough, and sore throat may feel the same, each condition calls for a different treatment, and telling them apart can be confusing. Consult with a doctor to help diagnose and get the correct treatment.
Early flu treatment can help
When it comes to the flu, starting antiviral medicine within the first 48 hours can lead to a shorter and milder illness — so it’s important to act fast. Telehealth providers, such as Doctor On Demand, lets you avoid the wait and see a doctor immediately by video, right from your smartphone, tablet, or computer. Early treatment can get you feeling better faster and avoid spreading the virus to others.
Reduced costs may be available through your insurance plan or employer. Some employers cover this cost completely for you (find out what your cost will be before your visit after you register in the app). Learn more or start a virtual visit at Doctor On Demand.
About the author
Dr. Amy Cottrell is board-certified by the American Board of Family Medicine and is an active member of the American Academy of Family Physicians. She graduated Summa Cum Laude from the University of Memphis with a degree in Biology. She then received her medical degree from the University of Tennessee Health Science Center and finished her residency in Family Medicine at the University of Arkansas for Medical Sciences in Little Rock.