Is it a cold or the flu?

You’ve got the sniffles, you’re tired, and you can’t stop sneezing. Is it a common cold or the dreaded flu? Because the common cold and the flu have overlapping symptoms, it’s easy to mistake one for the other.

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Common cold

A cold is a viral upper respiratory tract infection that typically affects the nasal part of the respiratory system. The infection is usually mild and goes away without treatment. Symptoms may include a runny nose, sore throat, cough and fever. Colds are most common in winter and spring months, and usually last 7-10 days. You can help prevent a cold with frequent handwashing and by avoiding contact with people who have a cold. Since research has shown that triclosan, commonly found in antibacterial soap, can negatively affect the immune and hormone systems, choose traditional soap and water. When flu prevention experts advise you to wash your hands, they don’t mean a light drizzle of water. They recommend washing for at least 15 to 20 seconds; that’s about as long as it takes to sing the “Happy Birthday” song twice.

Flu symptoms

The flu is caused by the influenza virus and lasts about 5-7 days. Symptoms of seasonal flu typically include fever, fatigue, headache, and muscle aches. The best way to avoid getting the flu is by getting a flu shot, which takes about 2 weeks after injection to start protecting you from the flu virus. The flu season varies every year, and health officials must choose the influenza strains that should be targeted for an upcoming season, months in advance, when it is hard to know what strains might be circulating. When flu vaccines are well matched to circulating viruses, effectiveness is, at best, around 60 percent.

If you get your flu vaccine before the flu season starts, it not only reduces your risk of the flu, it can mitigate the symptoms and protect more vulnerable people around you who may not have good immunity, such as the elderly, people with chronic illnesses, or small children.

Think you have the flu?

Starting homeopathic and herbal preparations at the very beginning of flu symptoms can significantly shorten the duration and severity of illness.


Oscillococcinum is a homeopathic remedy made to treat aching of the body with upper respiratory symptoms, fever and coughing. It’s available over the counter at grocery and health food stores. And If taken early enough in the illness cycle, studies have shown that taking Oscillococcinum at the onset of flu significantly reduces symptoms and shortens the duration of illness.


The recommended dosage is one vial 3 times/day preferably at the very beginning of flu symptoms. The dosage is the same for children and adults. For an infant, you can dissolve the pellets in water and give with a syringe or in their bottle or sippy cup.

My family takes one vial weekly as a preventative measure, and because I am in the field of nursing and exposed to flu on a daily basis, I take it daily. Check out their website for coupons!


The herb elderberry is my favorite for recurrent respiratory tract infections. The dried berries of the Sambucis Nigra plant are naturally high in immune-boosting compounds that are specifically shown to help beat the cold and flu more quickly.  They can be used to make a simple elderberry syrup:



Sinusalia works naturally with your body to temporarily relieve nasal congestion, sinus pain and headache due to the common cold. Paired with a Neti pot, you can say goodbye to sinus infections forever!!


Coldcalm is a combination homeopathic formula that is great for general cold symptoms, especially when you’re not sure which specific medicine to give. We start it here in our home at the very first sniffle or runny nose, and adjust to more specific remedies as the symptoms evolve and change.



Xlear is a saline nasal spray that contains xylitol and grapefruit seed extract, both of which have antimicrobial properties. We use it morning and night during cold and flu season to keep those nasal passages clear of any harboring bacteria. Another reason to love this one, is it comes in nasal drops for babies and young children who don’t like the sensation of a nasal spray.


Throat Coat Tea

Sore throat got you down?

Throat Coat Tea contains pharmacopoeial grade herbs (a ‘medicinal’ rather than a ‘food’ grade of herb) slippery elm and licorice, with hints of orange, peppermint and cinnamon. The makers, Traditional Medicinals, have put through this tea through the rigors and even published a clinical study. Hands down this the best remedy for sore throat!


Get that fresh air by opening windows for a bit every day. Florence Nightingale noted the virtues of open windows bakc in 1859. “True nursing ignores infection, except to prevent it. Cleanliness, fresh air from open windows, are the only defence a true nurse either asks or needs,” she wrote.

Keep your home clean and germ free by using Norwex towels, specifically on doorknobs, faucets, remote controls. And get those essential oils diffusing! I like Thieves or On Guard for their cleaning power and immune-boasting abilities!


See my post from October for more natural ways to prevent the flu. Here’s to a healthy, happy 2018!

Megan Jolin of Mother Earth Mama is a board certified Holistic Pediatric Nurse Practitioner whose passion is to bring health and wellness to the whole child.
Megan provides evidenced-based, family centered care in prenatal health and wellness, lactation counseling
, newborn care
-infant feeding
, infant massage
, vaccine consultation
, nutritional analysis and counseling
, toxin free home environment
, self care for parents and children, children’s yoga
 and a natural/integrative approach to common childhood illnesses. Contact

Disclaimer: Content on this site is for reference purposes and is not a substitute for advice from your health care professional. You should not rely solely on this content, and Mother Earth Mama assumes no liability for inaccuracies. These products and recommendations are not intended to diagnose, treat, cure, or prevent any disease or condition.


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