Make a Fast Flu Recovery

How can I feel better fast? When the familiar symptoms -- sore throat, congestion, runny nose -- start to kick in, recovery is the first thing on your mind.

The first step is figuring out what you have. Cold and flu -- along with bronchitis, pneumonia and the stomach flu -- have similar symptoms, and sometimes similar treatments, but figuring out which you have can help you decide how to proceed.

(Also, if you'd like to know if you have the cold or flu, here's a quick way to check.)

Below we'll explain how to attempt to diagnose your illness, feel better, decide if you need to see a doctor ... if you're unable to avoid these nasty sicknesses in the first place.

The Common Cold

Avoiding It: Cold is spread by a virus that can stay alive on a variety of surfaces. As a result, it's good to keep those germy surfaces clean or identify and avoid them.

But you can also catch the cold from someone who has it, so if you notice someone sneezing or coughing excessively, "Try to avoid them," said Dr. William Schaffner, chair of the department of preventive medicine at the Vanderbilt University School of Medicine.

"That's hard to do, and frankly, if they're coughing and sneezing and not being discrete about it, encourage them to practice cough and sneeze etiquette."

That includes, he said, using a tissue, turning your head away from others when you cough or sneeze, or bringing up your elbow and coughing or sneezing into your sleeve.

"That's something the CDC and the rest of us have been trying to promote for the past few years, it's called cough-and-sneeze etiquette," Schaffner said.

So if you happen to catch this virus, try to avoid sharing it with others.

If You Get It: You're probably familiar with these symptoms, because you've almost certainly had the common cold before. A runny nose, a sore throat and congestion are the hallmarks of what may be the most common illness in the Western world.

To Feel Better: Unfortunately, there is no cure for the common cold, so the best you can do is make yourself feel better while you have it. One possible remedy: hot showers. The steam from the shower can help clear your sinuses and respiratory passages.

"When you're in the shower, gently blow your nose," said Schaffner, as it will help get some of the mucus out of your passages.

"That will help you clear things out," he said.

But as Dr. Erica Brownfield, associate professor of medicine at the Emory University School of Medicine, explained, you don't want to shower too long, as it can lead to dehydration.

Remedies for The Common Cold

Keeping fluids up, she said, is important in feeling better.

A steaming bowl of chicken noodle soup can also help you feel better, although doctors don't fully know why.

Also, taking acetaminophen can reduce the fevers that sometimes surface toward the end of the day.

"If you can keep a lid on the fever, sometimes it just makes you feel better," said Schaffner.

As far as vitamin C, Schaffner notes, its value has been mixed in medical studies, so he says to take it if you feel it will help, in which case you can benefit from the placebo effect.

However, he said, if you are taking vitamin C, it becomes even more important to keep yourself hydrated, to avoid kidney stones.

He is more skeptical of other home remedies.

"If you want to take vitamin C, fine, but I wouldn't encourage taking echinacea," he said.

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