Can I get a flu shot if I have a cold? Doctors weigh in.

Bring on the sweaters, PSLs, and season premieres fall has officially arrived. On a less cozy note, so has flu season, which means its time to get your yearly flu shot, if you haven't already. Remember, influenza, a contagious respiratory illness, can be fatal; the flu killed over 61,000 people between last October and early May, according to Center for Disease Control estimates. Besides protecting yourself, getting the flu shot can also help prevent the illness from spreading to babies, older adults, people with compromised immune systems, and other vulnerable groups. But what if you've scheduled a flu shot appointment, only to wake up the morning of with a sore throat, stuffy nose, and other telltale cold symptoms? Should you still get a flu shot if you have a cold?

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Flu season in the United States
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Flu season in the United States
Emergency room nurse Kathy Nguyen wears a mask as deals with flu patients at Palomar Medical Center in Escondido, California, U.S., January 18, 2018. REUTERS/Mike Blake
Emergency room nurse Christine Bauer treats Joshua Lagade of Vista, California, for the flu as his girlfriend Mayra Mora looks on in the emergency room at Palomar Medical Center in Escondido, California, U.S., January 18, 2018. REUTERS/Mike Blake
Emergency room nurse Christine Bauer treats Joshua Lagade of Vista, California, for the flu in the emergency room at Palomar Medical Center in Escondido, California, U.S., January 18, 2018. REUTERS/Mike Blake
Doug Hasselo, 87 of Carlsbad, California, is treated for the flu by float nurse Nellie Reyes in the emergency room at Palomar Medical Center in Escondido, California, U.S., January 18, 2018. REUTERS/Mike Blake
Joshua Lagade of Vista, California, gets an IV from emergency room nurse Christine Bauer at Palomar Medical Center in Escondido, California, U.S., January 18, 2018. REUTERS/Mike Blake
Emergency room nurse Richard Horner wears a mask as he deals with flu patients at Palomar Medical Center in Escondido, California, U.S., January 18, 2018. REUTERS/Mike Blake
A doctor hold a syringe as part of the start of the seasonal influenza vaccination campaign in Nice, France October 24, 2017. REUTERS/Eric Gaillard
Boxes of vaccines against the flu are seen as part of the start of the seasonal influenza vaccination campaign in Nice, France October 24, 2017. REUTERS/Eric Gaillard
PORTLAND, ME - DECEMBER 29: Troy Ali, 21 of Portland receives a flu shot from Greater Portland Health medical assistant Anissa Millette at the clinic in Franklin Towers on Cumberland Ave on Friday, December 29, 2017. (Staff Photo by Carl D. Walsh/Portland Press Herald via Getty Images)
SAN FRANCISCO, CA - JANUARY 22: Vials of the Fluvirin influenza vaccine are displayed at a Walgreens phramacy on January 22, 2018 in San Francisco, California. A strong strain of H3N2 influenza has claimed the lives of 74 Californians under the age of 65 since the flu season began in October of last year. People are being encouraged to get flu shots even through the vaccine has been only 30% effective in combating the influenza. (Photo by Justin Sullivan/Getty Images)
SAN FRANCISCO, CA - JANUARY 22: A sign advertising flu shots is displayed at a Walgreens phramacy on January 22, 2018 in San Francisco, California. A strong strain of H3N2 influenza has claimed the lives of 74 Californians under the age of 65 since the flu season began in October of last year. People are being encouraged to get flu shots even through the vaccine has been only 30% effective in combating the influenza. (Photo by Justin Sullivan/Getty Images)
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First, though, a crash course on how the flu shot works: The flu shot, or vaccine, contains weakened influenza viruses, the CDC explains. They cant cause the flu, but they can trigger the immune system to produce proteins called antibodies that help it quickly recognize and mount a defense against actual influenza viruses in case it does encounter them. (Developing these antibodies takes around two weeks.) Each year's flu shot contains the influenza viruses predicted to be most prevalent in the approaching flu season.

According to the doctors Mic spoke to, whether you should get the flu shot if you have a cold boils down to the severity of your cold symptoms.

If you have a mild cold say, a low-grade fever of 99 degrees Fahrenheit, with a slight cough and stuffy nose, but nothing that keeps you from work or other day-to-day activities you're good to get the flu shot, says Dean Blumberg, chief of pediatric infectious diseases at UC Davis Health. That's not much of a burden on the immune system. In other words, it would still have the bandwidth to make antibodies in response to the shot, keeping you protected from the flu.

On the other hand, if you have a high fever and other serious symptoms that prevent you from going to school or work, your immune system may be especially focused on fighting that cold, Blumberg tells Mic, adding that it can be so activated that it could have a less coordinated response to the flu shot. (A fever greater than 100.4 degrees Fahrenheit counts as "high," says John Lynch, associate professor of medicine at the University of Washington School of Medicine.) As a result, you might be less protected from the flu later on.

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Breakfast Boosters: 14 Foods to Fight Off a Cold
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Breakfast Boosters: 14 Foods to Fight Off a Cold

Kiwi

Kiwis contain between 90 and 110 milligrams of vitamin C — more than an average orange. They are a good source of potassium, an important mineral for strong muscles and nerves, plus immune-boosting vitamin E. They are also packed with flavonoids and carotenoids — antioxidants that promote respiratory health, heart health and optimum well-being, says Suki Hertz, M.S., R.D., nutrition professor at the Culinary Institute of America. Cut kiwis in half and scoop out the flesh for a fruit salad or mash up and stir into plain yogurt.

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Papaya

Papayas are praised for their anti-inflammatory properties. They're also an excellent source of vitamin C—one medium papaya supplies 313 percent of your daily requirement, explains Hertz. Additionally, they are a great source of beta-carotene, a phytonutrient that gets converted to vitamin A in your body and keeps eyes, skin and mucous membranes moist. Have a few slices for breakfast in the morning or blend some with orange juice for a tropical smoothie.

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Ginger

If you feel a cold coming on ward it off with ginger, which can alleviate cold symptoms and clear nasal passages. It also promotes digestive health, reduces gas pains and relaxes the intestinal tract, explains Hertz. If you find yourself battling a stomach bug or winter cold, try steeping slices of fresh ginger in hot water for a soothing and healthy morning drink.

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Pumpkin Seeds

Pumpkin seeds are packed with vitamins, amino acids and minerals, including zinc. Zinc helps the immune system by acting as an antioxidant and minimizing damage to cell membranes from free radicals, explains Hertz. Pumpkin seeds are delicious alone or sprinkled in yogurt, oatmeal or cereal. For a sweet and spicy breakfast on the go, try this energy mix.

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Wheat Germ

Full of essential vitamins and fats, wheat germ, the nutrient source of the wheat grain, can help give your immune system a boost. It's also high in vitamin E, an antioxidant that helps fight inflammation, says Hertz. Sprinkle wheat germ in yogurt, oatmeal or cold cereal.

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Beets

Give your morning glass of orange juice a boost by blending it with cooked beets — just remember to strain it before serving. Packed with antioxidants and magnesium, a mineral that assists with nerve and muscle function, beets are also especially rich in folate. This B vitamin helps prevent serious birth defects and is important for women of childbearing age and for heart health, explains Hertz.

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Flax Seeds

Flax seeds are chock-full of important nutrients and minerals, including vitamin E, an antioxidant that keeps cells healthy, and alpha-linolenic acid, a vegetarian source of omega-3 fatty acids. To obtain these healthy fats, flax seeds must be ground first, explains Hertz. A coffee grinder works perfectly for this.

Famous for their nutty flavor, flax seeds can be sprinkled on yogurt, oatmeal or cold cereal. Flax oil is another option and a good way to add important nutrients to smoothies. Both flax seeds and flax oil are highly perishable and should be kept in the refrigerator for up to three months.

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Lemons

Besides being packed with vitamin C, lemons promote healthy bacteria, rather than the type that can cause viruses and colds. Hertz suggests using lemon in place of sugar and salt, both of which can weaken the immune system. In the morning, try squeezing some on fresh fruit instead of sprinkling with sugar.

Blueberries

It's no wonder blueberries are called a superfood — they have more antioxidants than any other fruit or vegetable. They are also one of the highest-ranking foods in anthocyanidins (cancer-fighting antioxidants) and are excellent sources of vitamin C, manganese and fiber, says Hertz. Start your morning with this Greek yogurt parfait, a beautiful dish that delivers a healthy mix of berries.

Eggs

Egg yolks are a good source of selenium, a powerful mineral that supports a healthy immune system. Research on eggs is proving they are not the heart-disease villains they were once thought to be, explains Hertz. The protein in the whites is of the highest value, and the yolks, although high in dietary cholesterol, are relatively low in saturated fat.

Tofu

People who don't eat enough protein tend to load up on carbs, which can increase blood sugar levels and weaken the immune system. Tofu is a complete protein and a good source of calcium and omega-3 fatty acids, all of which can strengthen the immune system, says Hertz. For a high-protein drink that's good on the go, try this quick smoothie.

Quinoa

Quinoa (pronounced keen-wa) is commonly referred to as a grain, but it's actually a seed that can be cooked. A super food, quinoa is one of the few "complete proteins" of the plant world, meaning it supplies all of the essential amino acids that are found in meat, poultry or fish, such as lysine, which helps with tissue repair, says Hertz. In the morning, swap white or whole-wheat bread with a multigrain loaf that's loaded with quinoa, bulgur and millet.

Grapefruit and Oranges

Everyone knows that citrus is chock-full of vitamin C, and it's also packed with powerful antioxidants and is low in calories, says Hertz. For a healthy breakfast that's sure to strengthen your immune system, try a fruit salad that combines three types.

Cottage Cheese

Cottage cheese contains selenium, a powerful antioxidant that can strengthen the immune system, says Hertz. To give your immune system a boost, try this breakfast parfait which combines cottage cheese with vitamin C-rich papaya and wheat germ.

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Plus, the flu shot can cause minor side effects, such as a low-grade fever and fatigue, which could make you feel even worse if you already have a severe cold, Lynch says. In extremely rare cases, it can result in a severe allergic reaction.

Blumberg adds that these side effects can also make it hard for your doctor to tease apart what's going on. If your symptoms worsen, is it because of your horrible cold just running its course, or a side effect of the vaccine?

If you have a cold with a high fever, or are visibly unwell, many clinicians would ask you to wait until your fever subsides and you start to feel better before getting the flu shot, says Margaret Khoury, a pediatric infectious disease physician and chief of pediatrics at Kaiser Permanente Baldwin Park Medical Center in California. Usually, that amounts to only a few days, the typical lifespan of a cold. We just want people to get [the flu shot] as early as possible, Lynch says all the more reason to get it now, before you come down with a cold, or to drag yourself to your flu shot appointment if you have only mild cold symptoms, especially if it took some effort to schedule.

It's important to note that if you already had a bad cold and feel worse after getting the flu shot, it's not because the shot made your cold worse, Lynch says. Rather, it's added a layer of side effects to your cold symptoms.

The take-home message: In most cases, cold-havers can rest assured. It is generally safe to get a flu shot if you have a cold, Lynch says. The flu vaccine cannot give you the flu, nor can it give you any other infection. It can make you get a cold, and it cant make your cold worse.

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11 Foods That Soothe a Sore Throat
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11 Foods That Soothe a Sore Throat
Next time you feel your throat becoming sore or scratchy, head to the grocery store instead of the drug store. Many fruits, vegetables, and herbs are capable of saving the day with their antioxidant-rich powers and can sometimes help you avoid that trip to the doctor.

Banana

Like eggs, bananas are an easily ingested food if you have a sore throat. If you don’t like the taste, try mixing it into a smoothie with some other vitamin-packed fruits such as strawberries or blueberries.

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Cabbage

Packed with vitamin C, sulfur, vitamin K and other antioxidants, cabbage is a great vegetable to incorporate into your diet. It has powerful anti-inflammatory properties and can even relieve headaches.

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Cinnamon

Herbal enthusiasts encourage cinnamon at the first sign of a sore throat. Chinese traditional medicine has also long encouraged cinnamon to ward off and/or sooth coughs.

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Cloves

According to SHAPE.com, “a tea that contains cloves can help you kick a respiratory infection. ‘Cloves work as an expectorant, loosening mucus in the throat and esophagus so you can cough it up,’ explains Neil Schachter, MD, a professor at the Mount Sinai School of Medicine in New York City.”

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Eggs

Not only are eggs packed with protein, they’re a super soft food that won’t irritate your throat. Eggs also contain a vital amount of omegas, choline and lutein.

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Garlic

Garlic is truly a super food. The fragrant plant contains hefty amounts of allicin (responsible for that garlicky smell), a potent immune booster, and is noted with antiviral and antibacterial properties.

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Ginger

Ginger contains a surplus of critical antioxidants that improve immune health, and when added to hot water, creates a soothing, fragrant tea.

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Lemon

That slice of lemon served with your tea isn’t just a garnish. It’s a bacteria-fighting, vitamin-rich fruit that should be used to heal your sore throat and improve your immune system.

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Oatmeal

Not only does oatmeal have a soft texture, but it offers a surplus of fiber, omegas and vitamins to aid in a speedy recovery.

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Pomegranate

One of the most antioxidant-rich fruits in the world, the pomegranate offers an assortment of impressive benefits. Not only does this superfruit contain immune-boosting properties, but can ward off infections by acting as an astringent.

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Sage

Try trading your regular tea for hot water and sage. For decades, sage has been used to soothe sore throats with its antiseptic and antibacterial properties.

Image Credit: iStock/Thinkstock

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