HealthyLife® Students' Self-Care Guide

Section I–Common Health Problems

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Colds & Flu

“I used to get colds often, especially around exam times. Now I make sure I wash my hands a lot. I think this helps me get fewer colds.”

Sylvia P., Brooklyn College

Colds and flu are the main reason students miss class due to illness. Colds and flu are caused by viruses. Flu is short for influenza, a virus that affects your upper respiratory system. “Stomach flu” is stomach pain, diarrhea, vomiting, etc. caused by a virus in the stomach and intestines. For these symptoms, see “ Abdominal Pain ”, “ Diarrhea ”, and/or “ Vomiting & Nausea .”

Is it a cold or is it the flu? See the chart below to learn the differences between the two.

Flu symptoms come on suddenly and affect the body all over. Cold symptoms mostly affect you above the neck. When you get the flu, you are also more prone to bronchitis, sinus, and ear infections.


Wash your hands often. Keep them away from your nose, eyes, and mouth. Use an instant hand sanitizer when you can’t wash your hands.
Try not to touch people or their things when they have a cold or the flu.
Get regular exercise. Eat well. See “ Eat Well & Get Regular Exercise ”.
Get adequate rest. See “ Set Up Good Sleep Habits ”.
Get a flu shot each fall if your health care provider advises it.

  Signs & Symptoms

  Colds &  Flu Comparison Chart

Signs & Symptoms Cold Flu
Fever, chillsLow fever, if anyUsual; can be a high fever
General aches and painsMild, if anyUsual; often severe; affect the body all over
Fatigue, weaknessMild, if anyUsual; often severe. Makes you want to stay in bed.
Runny, stuffy noseCommonSometimes
Sore throatCommonSometimes
CoughMild to moderate ; hacking coughCommon; can become severe


Self-care treats colds and most cases of the flu.

Prescribed antiviral medicines, such as rimantidine may make flu symptoms milder and help you recover sooner if started within 48 hours of the onset of flu symptoms. Antibiotics do not treat cold and flu viruses.

Questions to Ask

With or following the flu, do any of the following symptoms of  meningitis occur?
  • Stiff neck (can't bend the head forward to touch the chin to touch the chest)
  • Severe, persistent headache
  • Red or purple rash that doesn't fade when pressure is applied to the skin
  • Seizure
  • Lethargy
Yes. Get Immediate Care.


After a recent case of the flu, are any of these signs of  Reye’s Syndrome present?
  • Sudden repeated vomiting
  • Pain in the upper right area of the abdomen
  • Rapid mental status changes (agitation, confusion,
    irritability, delirium)
  • Increased pulse and breathing rate
  • Lethargy
  • Loss of consciousness
Yes. Get Immediate Care.


With the flu, do you have extreme shortness of breath, confusion, or lightheadedness?Yes. Get Immediate Care.


Do you have 2 or more of these signs and symptoms of a  sinus infection?
  • Fever over 101 degrees Fahrenheit
  • Greenish-yellow or bloody colored nasal discharge
  • Nasal congestion with facial pain or pain in the upper teeth that does not improve over 7 days
  • A feeling of pressure inside the head
  • Eye pain, blurred vision, or changes in vision
  • Cheek or upper jaw pain
  • Swelling around the eyes, nose, cheeks, and forehead
Yes. See Provider.


With cold or flu symptoms do you have one or more of these problems?
  • A fever over 100 degrees Fahrenheit for more than 3 days
  • A sore throat that is bright red or has white spots
  • An earache
  • A cough with: Shortness of breath, chest tightness, or wheezing; chest pain; or difficulty sleeping or lying down due to the cough
  • Nasal congestion which is not improved using self-care measures
Yes. See Provider.


Have you had flu symptoms (see Colds & Flu Comparison Chart above) for less than 48 hours? { Note: Your health care provider may prescribe an antiviral medicine.}Yes. Call Provider.

No, Use Self-Care



Drink lots of liquids.
Take an over-the-counter medicine for muscle aches, and/or fever, but don’t take aspirin if you have flu-like symptoms. (See “ OTC Medications ”.)
Use an over-the-counter saline nasal spray, such as Ocean brand. Use as directed on the label.
Use a cool-mist vaporizer in your room.
Have chicken soup. It helps clear mucus.
Take echinacea, zinc lozenges, and/or vitamin C as advised by your health care provider, when cold or flu symptoms start. Don’t take echinacea and/or zinc lozenges long term. These do not prevent colds and flu.

For a Sore Throat:

Gargle every few hours with a solution of 1/4 teaspoon of salt dissolved in 1/2 cup of warm water. Make sure the salt is dissolved.
Drink tea with lemon (with or without honey).
Suck on hard candy or a medicated lozenge.

SARS – Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome

SARS is a respiratory illness that began in South-east Asia and has spread to other countries. It is contagious through coughs, sneezes, etc.

Signs and Symptoms

  1. Fever higher than 100.4OF

  2. Dry cough, difficulty breathing, and/or shortness of breath

  3. Symptoms 1 and 2 occur within 10 days of recent travel to a SARS site or contact with someone who had SARS symptoms.

Call your doctor if you have all 3 of the above symptoms. Follow his or her advice. For the most recent information on SARS, access

©2005, 6th edition. American Institute for Preventive Medicine All rights reserved.
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March 21, 2007