Follow this chart for information about how to treat the symptoms of a cold or the flu and how to know when to see a doctor. Other illnesses may also cause flu- or cold-like symptoms. Self-care is often all that is needed to treat common viral illnesses.

Begin here
1. Do you have a fever? No --> Go to Question 6.*
Yes, go down
2. Do you have a sore throat and headache–without nasal drainage? Yes --> You may have STREP THROAT, a bacterial infection. --> See your doctor if the sore throat or fever lasts longer than 48 hours. He or she can do a test to find out if you have strep throat. If you do, your doctor may give you an antibiotic to treat it. You should also get plenty of rest, and drink lots of water. Gargling with warm salt water may help relieve a sore throat.
No, go down
3. Did your symptoms start suddenly, and do you have a combination of symptoms including muscle aches, chills, a sore throat, runny nose or cough? Yes --> You may have the FLU. --> Get plenty of rest, and drink lots of fluids. Over-the-counter medicines may relieve some of your symptoms. Your doctor may suggest a prescription medicine that may shorten the course of the flu. Prevent the flu by getting a flu shot each fall.
If it persists, see your doctor
No, go down
4. Do you have a persistent cough that brings up yellowish or greenish mucus, wheezing and shortness of breath. Yes --> You may be developing ACUTE BRONCHITIS, an infection of the airways. --> Get plenty of rest, and drink lots of fluids. If you smoke, cut down on the number of cigarettes you smoke, or stop smoking. Use an over-the-counter medicine for pain and fever, and an expectorant to ease the coughing. A humidifier may also relieve some symptoms. If symptoms persist or worsen, contact your doctor.
No, go down
5. Do you have a headache or muscle aches, nausea or vomiting, and watery diarrhea? Yes --> You may have GASTROENTERITIS (also called the stomach flu). --> Get plenty of rest. Children who have gastroenteritis should be given an oral rehydration solution to avoid dehydration. Ease back into eating with bland foods and clear liquids.

*6. Do you have a runny and/or itchy nose, sneezing, and itchy eyes? Yes --> You may have ALLERGIES. --> Try an over-the-counter antihistamine medicine. If symptoms persist or worsen, contact your doctor.
No, go down
7. Do you have sneezing, a sore throat, headache, congestion and a runny nose? Yes --> You probably have a COLD. --> Try an over-the-counter cold medicine to treat the specific symptoms you are having. Get plenty of rest, and drink lots of fluid.
No, go down
8. Do you have swelling or pain around your eyes, cheeks, nose or forehead, a headache, a dry cough, and/or discharge from the nose? Yes --> You may be developing SINUSITIS.
--> See your doctor. Acetaminophen, ibuprofen and/or warm compresses may help reduce facial pain. A cool mist vaporizer may help your sinuses drain more easily. Drink plenty of fluids.
No, go down

For more information, please talk to your doctor. If you think your problem is serious, call right away.

WARNING: Due to the risk of Reye’s syndrome, don’t give aspirin to children without your doctor’s approval.

This tool has been reviewed by doctors and is for general educational purposes only. It is not a substitute for medical advice. The information in this tool should not be relied upon to make decisions about your health. Always consult your family doctor with questions about your individual condition(s) and/or circumstances. Source: American Academy of Family Physicians. Family Health & Medical Guide. Dallas: Word Publishing; 1996.