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Sniff, sniff... It's nearly time to get your handkerchiefs out again! With flu and cold season well on its way, it's time to take a look at home remedies for these annoying viruses.

Winter is fast approaching, and for those people living in northern-hemisphere countries that means cold and flu season is starting too. A strong and healthy immune system reduces your risk of catching them, but how can you remedy and manage colds and the flu naturally if you are unlucky enough to get ill anyway?

Cold and flu season — when and why?

Winter is the prime time for both colds and influenza, but they will peak at different months of the year depending on your location. The US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) has data that shows October and November are already great “warm-up months” for the flu, but that flu rates really soar between December and March. February is actually the busiest month for the flu.

If you want to know how to take care of yourself, your children or your partner when you come down with a cold or the flu, you will first need to know what the differences between the two are. A surprising number of people is not aware of these differences, and will claim to have “come down with the flu” when they notice a runny nose or a slightly sore throat. So, just in case you are wondering, let's take a look at the differences between the common cold and the flu.

The influenza virus comes in different types. You've got the bird flu (H5N1), the swine flu (H1N1), and various strains of seasonal flu — which is of course what you are most likely to get right now. Five to 20 percent of United States residents will suffer from a strain of seasonal flu this year.

The symptoms can be:

  • Fever

  • Muscle and joint pain, possibly all over the body

  • A headache

  • Fatigue

  • Nausea, vomiting and diarrhea

  • Chills

  • And then there are the symptoms that also come with the common cold — a snotty nose, sneezing, coughing and a sore throat

The common cold is caused by different viruses than the flu, and although some of the symptoms are the same a cold is usually much milder than the flu. You can expect:

  • A runny or congested nose

  • Sneezing

  • Coughing and a sore throat

  • Watery and perhaps irritated eyes

  • And then you may have a slight headache and a low fever — a common cold may make you feel a little under weather, but won't force you to stay in bed all day whether you want to or not.

Those people who are not sure whether they have a strain of influenza or are dealing with a common cold can always head to their family doctor and get tested.

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