A temperature higher than 101 degrees Fahrenheit is considered “a true fever” and warrants a call to your doctor, O’Rourke says.
2. Pulse oximeter
Another helpful tool to have on hand, especially with COVID-19 still circulating, is a pulse oximeter, which measures blood oxygen levels. People who develop serious complications from the flu and COVID can experience difficulty breathing or shortness of breath. So if you start having breathing issues or upper respiratory symptoms, “you would be able to assess the oxygen levels in your blood and be able to report that to your physician or medical team,” O’Rourke explains.
The more familiar pulse oximeters attach to a finger, but some home models are designed to be used on the ears, nose or forehead.
3. A COVID-19 test
The most common symptoms of cold, flu and COVID overlap, making it difficult to pin down a diagnosis. That’s why having a rapid at-home COVID test stashed away can be especially helpful, even if you’re fully vaccinated. These tests cost about $25 for a package of two and can be purchased without a prescription at pharmacies and some major retailers.
Knowing whether you’re positive for COVID can impact the treatment course of your illness — especially if you are at high risk for a more severe case, explains Robert Weber, administrator for pharmacy services at the Ohio State University Wexner Medical Center and assistant dean for medical center affairs at the Ohio State University College of Pharmacy. The results will also tell you whether you need to isolate from others so that you don’t pass on the virus.
4. Pain relievers
Colds, the flu and other seasonal illnesses can come with headaches and muscle aches, which in many cases over-the-counter pain relievers can help alleviate. They also have the added benefit of temporarily reducing fevers. Acetaminophen (Tylenol is the brand name) is generally recommended for older adults, since non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs) — which include ibuprofen (Advil) and naproxen (Aleve) — can raise bleeding risks in the gastrointestinal tract, a risk that increases with age.
NSAIDs can also damage the kidneys and raise blood pressure, especially if used consistently, says Ashley Garling, a clinical assistant professor at the University of Texas at Austin’s College of Pharmacy. “If you have any ulcers or history of ulcers or are on blood thinners, then I would avoid them,” Garling adds.