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Cold, Flu, RSV or COVID-19?

Published in Family Medicine, Pediatrics, Urgent Care, Virtual Care, For the Health of It, Childhood Vaccines Author: Kimberly Tjaden,MD

This time of year, there are a few things that you come to expect in Minnesota: falling leaves, cooler temperatures and illness. We’re seeing an increase in cases of the common cold, influenza, COVID-19 and respiratory syncytial virus (RSV). Here are the common symptoms of each illness, how you can manage symptoms at home, and when it’s time to make an appointment to see a health care professional.

What are the symptoms of the common cold?

You will only experience symptoms that are above the neck. It’s an upper respiratory tract infection. 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 do you treat the common cold?

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

It’s also important to note that several over-the-counter medications 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 before giving them to children. It’s important to note that antibiotics are not given to 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.

When should I see a health care professional for a cold?

If symptoms continue to get worse after three to five days or if you don’t see an improvement after 10-14 days, it’s time to make an appointment to see a doctor. If you have any ear or chest pain, you should be evaluated by a health care professional. Trouble breathing or wheezing are also signs you should be seen.

What are the symptoms of influenza aka the flu?

The flu comes very quickly and is often associated with high fever and malaise, which is just the feeling of yuckiness. You’ll also experience an achy body, a significant cough, general fatigue and a headache.

How do you treat the flu?

Most people can recover from the flu at home, and you can expect the symptoms to subside in about seven to 10 days. Use age-appropriate over-the-counter medications to relieve symptoms.

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

You should remain at home until you are fever-free for 24 hours without taking medications.

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

When should I see a health care professional for the flu?

If your symptoms are improving, but suddenly worsen or you start experiencing new confusion, chest pain or trouble breathing, it’s time to see a health care professional.

Your list of symptoms and an examination is typically enough for your doctor to determine if you have the flu, especially if there are many cases of influenza in the area. In some cases, your doctor may order a test to verify.

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.

If you’re in a high-risk category for flu complications, you should be evaluated by a health care professional within 48 hours of your first symptom. The flu can sometimes turn into pneumonia, sinus infections or bronchitis.

What are the symptoms of COVID-19?

COVID-19 may take longer to develop symptoms — up to two weeks after exposure. Influenza usually develops one to four days after exposure. Both can have varying degrees of illness from mild to severe. The symptoms are very similar between COVID and influenza, but a loss of taste and smell is unique to COVID.

How do you treat COVID-19?

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), most people with COVID-19 have mild symptoms and can recover at home. You can treat your symptoms with common over-the-counter medications. It’s important to get plenty of rest and drink fluids.

For people who are in high-risk categories, the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) has authorized antiviral medications to treat mild to moderate cases of COVID-19.

Learn more about your testing and treatment options.

When should I see a health care professional for COVID-19?

If you’re in a high-risk category, experiencing trouble breathing, have low oxygen, pain or pressure in your chest, have blue lips or are experiencing mental fog or confusion, you should be evaluated immediately.

What are the symptoms of RSV?

Typically, the virus is most dangerous for adults ages 60 and older and for children ages 2 and under. Sneezing, coughing, trouble breathing, wheezing, decreased appetite, runny nose and a fever that lasts five to seven days are typical.

How do you treat RSV?

Older children and adults with mild cases of RSV can be treated at home with over-the-counter fever-reducing medications and by drinking plenty of fluids.

To help prevent the spreading of the virus, the CDC recommends that you wash your hands, keep your hands off your face, avoid close contact with sick people, cover your coughs and sneezes, clean and disinfect surfaces and stay home when you’re sick.

When to see a health care professional for RSV?

If you are struggling to breathe, wheezing, or dehydrated, it’s time to see a health care provider, as those are signs of more serious cases.

Where to Go for Care

If you need to be seen by a health care professional, CentraCare has a variety of options to meet your care needs in-person or virtually. If you’re not sure where to go, call CentraCare Connect at 320-200-3200 to schedule an appointment or speak with a nurse regarding symptoms. CentraCare Connect has 24/7 access to nurses who are trained to triage your symptoms and connect you to the right care.

Treat at home or seek care?

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