03/28/2008 02:48 am ET | Updated Nov 17, 2011

Don't Self-Diagnose Colds And Flus

"Runny nose, sore throat, sneezing and a low grade fever are the typical symptoms of a common cold", says Dr. Steven Magid, associate professor of medicine at Weill Medical College of Cornell University in Manhattan. He adds "The flu is a much more severe illness. Add headaches, high fever, severe muscle pain, extreme fatigue, and severe cough to a cold, and you have the flu". If you have ever experienced "the flu" you know how different they are.

"The flu" is caused by the influenza viruses. Dr. Magid advises that you can protect yourself against true influenza by getting a vaccine each year. "Older people, and those with additional illness such as diabetes, or lung problems should be sure to get the vaccine", he further recommends. There are also medicines that can also prevent influenza after exposure. These medicines can also reduce flu symptoms and shorten the duration if given soon after symptoms appear.

"Over one billion cases of the common cold occur in the United States each year. Some 200 virus have been said to cause the common cold. Rhinovirus causes most of the cases, but other viruses such as corona virus and adenovirus can also cause the common head cold" adds Dr. Magid.

"Although there is no "cure" for the common cold., many treatments have been touted. Vitamin C has been in vogue for decades, since Nobel Prize Laureate, Linus Pauling, publicized the notion that large doses of Vitamin C could lessen the severity, or even prevent colds", adds Dr. Magid. He further remarks that "although there has been little support over the years, a recently published study seems to suggest that he may have been right". Similar claims have been made for zinc lozenges and nasal spray and Echinacea - although billions of dollars are spent each year on supplements, the evidence that they work is not conclusive.

At most they seem to shorten the illness by about a day- but at least they seem not to be harmful. If symptoms persist for more than a week it is recommended that you see your internist for evaluation. Do not self diagnose as this often delays implementing an effective treatment plan and can lead to further problems. In addition, do not take antibiotics unless prescribed by your doctor. If you have high blood pressure be advised that over the counter cold medications sometimes contain active ingredients that can raise blood pressure. Read the labels carefully.

One of the most effective way to prevent colds, is to wash your hands frequently and avoid touching your nose with your hands. Hand washing still continues to be one of the most effective ways of preventing disease transmission.