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:
- are a child - any sore throats or coughs should be investigated by a doctor
- belong to a high-risk group (e.g., people with other medical conditions or weakened immune systems, the elderly, very young children)
- have a sore throat that lasts more than 2 days; if it is beefy, red, swollen, and covered with pus
- have a runny nose 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 7 to 10 days, or if it is severe with thick green or bloody mucus
- have a high fever (higher than 38.5°C) that lasts more than 4 days
- have a high fever return within 4 to 14 days
- have difficulty breathing
There are a variety of prescription and non-prescription medications that are useful for relieving symptoms and for controlling pain. Consult your pharmacist or healthcare professional to determine which medication is the right one for you. Antibiotics are not effective for the flu or a cold unless a bacterial infection develops. Antiviral medications may be helpful in reducing the duration of your flu, but they must 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.