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Cold vs. Flu

Published in Family Medicine, For the Health of It, Influenza Author: Roxanne Schmiesing,PA-C

This time of year, there are a few things that you come to expect in Minnesota: snow, ice, and illness. You think it’s just a cold but your friends insist that you have the flu. So, which is it and does it really matter? The answer is yes!

The common cold and seasonal flu are treated very differently. However, the symptoms of these illnesses tend to be very similar. There are a few things that can help you determine what you’re suffering from and what steps you should take next.

If it’s a cold…

Typically, with a cold, you will only experience symptoms that are above the neck. Itchy eyes, runny nose, cough, and sore throat are all common with a cold. You may experience a slight fever or achy muscles but the severity is minimal. In addition, when you come down with a cold, normally the symptoms come on slowly over a few days.

How to treat a cold…

There is no cure for the common cold and, in most cases, there is no cause for concern of serious complications from the illness. The best treatment for colds is extra rest and a lot of patience. You have to allow your body to fight the virus so keeping yourself well rested and hydrated will help.

It’s also important to note that there are several over-the-counter medications that will help ease the symptoms associated with colds. However, these medicines are designed solely for symptom relief and will not speed up your recovery time.

Feel free to discuss cold medicine options with your doctor, especially prior to giving them to children. It’s important to note that antibiotics are not given for people suffering from colds. This is because they will not help fight the viral infection associated with colds and can make it more difficult for your body to fight bacterial infections in the future.

If it’s the flu…

When you are overtaken by the flu, you are OVERTAKEN. Unlike a cold, the flu comes on very quickly with a high fever, muscle aches, chills, and fatigue. You may also have a runny nose and cough similar to the symptoms of a cold.

The flu can lead to life-threatening complications if left untreated. This is especially true for people in vulnerable groups including: young children, pregnant women and anyone over the age of 65.

Overall, it can be very difficult to determine if someone has the flu simply based on symptoms. Proper testing should be done by your doctor to determine if you are, in fact, suffering from the flu.

How to treat the flu...

If you are diagnosed with the flu, your doctor may prescribe an antiviral drug that fights against the flu in your body. Similar to a cold, you should also get proper hydration and rest to help your body heal.

And as a reminder, there is a still time to get your flu shot which is your best defense against the seasonal flu.