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When it comes to flu season, we all know that the very first step in protecting yourself is to get a flu shot.
And before you ask the very common question: "can you get the flu from the flu shot?" the doctor-backed answer is a resounding NO.
"This is the biggest myth on the planet. The flu shot does not give you the flu," says family physician and associate professor at Rowan University, Dr. Jen Caudle.
Even if you do get the flu shot, it is still possible to get the flu. You're not getting the flu from the shot, Dr. Jen reiterates, but the flu vaccine is not a 100% guarantee that you won't get sick.
"It takes two weeks after you get the flu vaccine for your body to become immune to the flu," the doc explains.
"The other thing is, you could get another virus that's not the flu — or it's a different flu strain. They pick the three or four they think are most likely circulating, but you can get another type of flu that's not in the vaccine," Dr. Jen says.
In the event that you do get sick during flu season, the next step is to determine whether you have a cold or if it is the flu.
1. DON'T assume you have the flu just because you're coughing and sneezing.
Once you know whether it's a cold or the flu, you may need to go to the store to pick up medication for your symptoms, right? Looking at all the different options on the shelves can be overwhelming even when you aren't feeling sick, so when you have to go to the drugstore with a cold or the flu, here are some helpful tips for choosing the right over-the-counter meds.
2. DON'T buy a multi-symptom medication if you don't have all the symptoms.
"Think about the symptom that's bothering you the most and pick a drug or a medication that's going to deal with that symptom," the doc advises. "Don't get something that's just going to knock out everything."
The multi-symptom names might sound promising, but as Dr. Jen points out, "if you take medications you don't need, you might end up with side effects you don't want." So don't buy the multi-symptom medication unless you actually have all the symptoms.
3. DO talk to your doctor before taking a decongestant.
Watch the video above to see Dr. Jen demonstrate how decongestants work.
She says to definitely look for a decongestant at the drugstore — just be sure to talk to your doctor before taking one, especially if you have high blood pressure or are taking blood pressure medication, because decongestants can affect your blood pressure and may be no-nos for you.
4. DO choose medications with active ingredients that address your symptoms.
If your cough is wet sounding and you're constantly coughing up phlegm, you want to get that phlegm out of your chest. So for a wet cough, look for an expectorant, the doc says.
"Something with Guaifenesin — it's an expectorant — it will help you cough all that stuff out and get rid of it. It helps thin mucus," Dr. Jen says.
If you have a dry cough, you might not have much mucus, but the constant cough can give you a sore throat.
"If that's you, you want a medicine called an Antitussive. This is a medication that usually has something called Dextromethorphan in it. This is an ingredient that works in the brain to help suppress cough," Dr. Jen says.
As always, if you are experiencing flu-like symptoms, talk to your doctor.