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The Cold Versus the Flu… Which One Do You Have?

You know the feeling all too well. You have the chills, your body aches, your tissue box is attached at the hip and the tip of your nose resembles rudolph the red-nosed reindeer. It is clear you are sick – but is it a common cold or the dreaded flu? Should you go to the Doctor for an antibiotic, or break out the orange juice and chicken noodle soup? Let’s dive in to the two illnesses, and what you can do to treat and prevent both the flu and common cold.
 

The Scoop on the Flu

If you are experiencing a dry, hacking cough, profound fatigue, or vomiting and diarrhea, you most likely have the flu. According to the CDC, Influenza can affect the nose, throat, and sometimes lungs. It “is a contagious respiratory illness caused by influenza viruses,” and is an illness that should not be taken lightly. In fact, more serious cases can lead to hospitalization, and/or sometimes even death. Higher risk is especially prevalent in young children and adults ages 65 and older.

 

Common Flu Symptoms

  • Dry, hacking cough
  • Headache
  • Moderate-to-high fever (Although not everyone with the flu will run a fever)
  • Profound fatigue (May last up to two weeks)
  • Severe muscle or body aches
  • Shaking chills
  • Sore throat
  • Stuffy and runny nose
  • Vomiting or diarrhea

Antiviral drugs can be helpful in stopping the flu virus in its tracks, and shortening the length of one’s illness. These drugs can also stop the flu from turning into pneumonia.

 

The Common Cold Run-Down

Sneezy, watery eyes and runny nose? These are key indicators of a common cold. The CDC explains that while common colds are caught more in the winter and spring, you can be vulnerable at any time of the year. In fact, millions of people get infected with the common cold every year, with adults having 2 to 3 colds per year. On average the common cold typically lasts around 7 to 10 days. Colds are often milder than the flu, and do not cause hospitalizations, pneumonia, or bacterial infections. If you are experiencing any of the following symptoms, you may have a common cold.

 

Common Cold Symptoms:

  • Cough
  • Headache or body aches
  • Mild tiredness
  • Mild-to-moderate fever
  • Runny or stuffy nose
  • Sneezing
  • Sore throat

Since there is no cure for a cold, the best way to recover is by resting and drinking plenty of fluids. Over-the-counter medicines can also make colds more manageable to deal with.

 

What’s the Difference Between the Cold and Flu?

Though both respiratory illnesses can have similar symptoms, they are caused from different viruses. As the CDC states, “Special tests that usually must be done within the first few days of illness can tell if a person has the flu.” A fever is also a strong indicator that differentiates the flu from a common cold. As a rule of thumb, flu symptoms are often more severe than cold symptoms. Check out the chart below to compare the two illnesses.

flu or cold chart

Chart from: https://www.cdc.gov/flu/about/qa/coldflu.htm

 

When You Should See a Doctor

Ok, so you think you may have the flu. Is it time to see a Doctor? While it is a good idea to see a doctor if you think you have the flu, it is especially important if you fall under any of the following categories:

  • Over the age of 50
  • Pregnant
  • Under the age of 2
  • On chemotherapy
  • Have a compromised immune system
  • Have a heart or lung condition
  • Have diabetes
  • Have a metabolic disorder (like asthma or kidney disease)
  • Are in a long term care facility or nursing home.

Colds do not typically require a doctor’s visit. However, if your cold symptoms last more than 10 days, and are severe or unusual, the CDC recommends seeing a doctor.

 

Cold and Flu Prevention:

The good news is that you can lessen your chances of getting both the cold and flu. To prevent the flu, the CDC recommends getting your flu shot every year, and avoiding those who are infected by influenza. Since the flu can spread via germs emitted through coughs and sneezes, make sure to frequently wash your hands, especially before eating.

Colds are spread through “air and close personal contact,” so it is important to wash your hands frequently with soap and water, especially before touching your face or eating. An alcohol-based sanitizer for your hands and frequently disinfecting objects and countertops can also combat cold and flu germs.

 

Sources used:

1. https://www.cdc.gov/flu/about/index.html

2. https://www.cdc.gov/flu/antivirals/whatyoushould.htm

3. https://www.cdc.gov/features/rhinoviruses/

4. https://www.cdc.gov/dotw/common-cold/

5. https://www.cdc.gov/flu/about/qa/coldflu.htm

6. https://www.cdc.gov/flu/keyfacts.htm

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