To get more insight on the upcoming cold and flu season, Mediaplanet spoke with community pharmacist and professor of pharmacy, Dr. Nardine Nakhla, to uncover the facts on the cold, flu, and over-the-counter (OTC) medications used to provide relief.

Mediaplanet: What is the difference between a cold and the flu?
Nardine Nakhla: Both are respiratory infections, but are caused by different viruses. Fever, body aches, and extreme tiredness are more common and intense with influenza (commonly referred to as “the flu”). Although colds don’t normally result in serious health problems, the flu can cause complications for young children, senior citizens, those with underlying respiratory disorders or those with compromised immune systems.

MP: How can people prepare for cold and flu season?
NN: Make sure you receive a yearly flu vaccine, avoid exposure to those who are sick, and regularly wash your hands with soap and water before eating or touching your face. Some viruses can spread through the air or even live on surfaces such as door handles for up to three hours.  To reduce the spread of germs to family and friends, try to sneeze into your elbow or a tissue and discard immediately.

MP: What are some common myths about colds and the flu and the medicines used to treat them?
NN: A common myth is that staying indoors can prevent a cold.  The reality is a cold or flu is caused by viruses, so exposure to cold, wet weather does not mean you will become sick.  Another misconception is that OTC medications treat the cold or flu virus directly. The fact is, OTC medications treat the symptoms and are designed to make you feel more comfortable, but don’t get rid of the infection any faster.

"A common myth is that staying indoors can prevent a cold."

MP: What’s the best way to select a cough or cold medication that’s right for you?
NN: Start by speaking to your pharmacist as they are medication experts.  Read the labels of any products you are considering, and think about the active ingredients in these products in context of other medicines you are already taking. If you take more than one medication containing the same active ingredients, you could accidentally exceed the recommended maximum single or daily dosage amount. To help you make informed decisions about the products you select, there are several online resources available that offer valuable information on medications and responsible use.

MP: When should you see a doctor?
NN: You should see a doctor if you have difficulty breathing, experience sudden chest pain, vomiting or fluid loss, have a fever over 40.5 degrees Celsius (104.9°F) or one that lasts longer than 72 hours. You should also see your doctor if your cold or flu does not go away in 7 - 14 days or if a cough lasts more than three weeks.