By Dr. Maria Simbra

PITTSBURGH (KDKA) — It seems like just about everyone is sick or coming down with something.

It is cold and flu season and with these highly contagious illnesses, it’s bound to visit your nose or throat soon, if it hasn’t already.

“The last couple weeks we’ve been seeing lots of patients with flu like illnesses, both regular colds and more classic influenza type illnesses,” says Dr. Marc Itskowitz, an internist at Allegheny General Hospital.

While there’s no cure for either the common cold or the flu, you can feel better faster.

• The first step — know the difference.

“First patient of the day was a woman with five days of muscle ache, fatigue, headaches, sore throat and cough – classic symptoms of the flu,” Dr. Itskowitz continues. “The cold is usually more mild, some stuffy nose, a mild sore throat, generally doesn’t debilitate a patient.”

If you bring up your flu symptoms with your doctor in the first 48 hours, he or she can prescribe an anti-flu drug which would knock off a day or two of symptoms.

Sometimes a bacterial infection can have similar symptoms, an instance where an antibiotic would be appropriate.

“If they have symptoms for more than 10 to 14 days, we’re going to think about an antibiotic,” says Dr. Itskowitz.

• Whether it’s the flu or a cold, stay well-hydrated.

“Hot tea, chicken soup are generally good liquids to use,” says St. Clair Hospital internist Dr. Antonio Riccelli. “Most hot liquids are good, they help alleviate some of the sinus congestion, soothe a sore throat.”

The steamier, the better to loosen secretions. Avoid alcohol and caffeine, which can actually make you lose fluid.

• Over-the-counter medicines can be helpful.

For fever, there’s acetaminophen, brand name Tylenol. For mucus and cough, medicines containing guaifenesin and dextromethohphan help. And for that clogged nose…

“Things like pseudophed or phenylephine, both of these are designed to reduce the kind of swelling that causes nasal congestion,” Dr. Joe Suyama recommends.

And if you think you’re safe because you haven’t gotten sick yet, there’s plenty of cold and flu still to come.

• It’s not too late for a flu shot.

“The influenza in Allegheny County has been a bit sporadic but it is still on the increase,” says Dr. Suyama.

Most of the time, managing your illness at home is your best bet.

But with symptoms like a fever over 101.5, shaking chills, chest pain with breathing, shortness of breath or if can’t keep anything down, getting some medical advice would be a good idea.

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