Is It a Cold or the Flu?

Your nose is stuffy, your throat is sore, you sneeze non-stop, and your body aches. How do you know if you have the common cold or the dreaded flu virus? What’s the difference between the two anyway?

A cold is a contagious respiratory infection caused by a virus. More than 200 types of viruses can lead to a cold the most common one being the rhinovirus, responsible for at least 50% of all colds.

Influenza, more commonly known as the flu, is another type of respiratory infection that develops into a more serious condition, like pneumonia, bronchitis or sinus/ear infections. The flu is caused by the influenza A or B viruses. A cold can be caught year round, while the flu is typically seasonal.

According to the Centers For Disease Control and Prevention, adults have an average of two to three colds per year and children have even more. Roughly 22 million school days are lost each year in the U.S. due to the common cold. Where influenza is concerned, it is estimated that 5 to 20 percent of the population gets the flu and more than 200,000 people are hospitalized from seasonal flu-related complications.

Cold and Flu Prevention Tips

The common cold and flu are usually transmitted by someone already infected by the virus. This can happen through physical contact or by touching a surface contaminated with their germs like a doorknob, faucet, or a fork, and then touching your nose or mouth. Cold and flu can also be spread by infected droplets in the air as a result of a cough or sneeze.

Since the cold and the flu are both contagious, the best way to prevent getting sick is by frequently washing your hands with soap and hot water. Cover your mouth and nose when coughing or sneezing and always wash your hands afterwards. Try to avoid anyone who has a cold or is showing flu-like symptoms. Most doctors recommend getting a flu vaccine at the start of the flu season (flu season begins October and can last until May).

Cold and Flu Symptoms

Symptoms between the cold and flu are similar, with slight differences.

Symptoms of the cold include:

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

Typically, colds clear up on their own. However, the rule of thumb for making an appointment to see your doctor for a cold is if you have a temperature higher than 100.4° F, if symptoms last more than 10 days and if symptoms are severe or unusual.

Symptoms of the flu include:

  • Runny or stuffy nose
  • Sore throat
  • Moderate-to-high fever (not everyone with the flu will have a fever)
  • Dry, hacking cough
  • Headache
  • Severe muscle or body aches
  • Shaking chills
  • Profound fatigue (may last up to two weeks)

Cold and Flu Treatment At Windermere Medical Center

Typically doctors can get a sense of whether the symptoms are caused by a cold or the flu by examining the patient’s nose, throat, and ears. If the doctor feels it is necessary, he/she may run a Rapid Influenza Diagnostic Test (RIDT). The test is used to detect the virus in nasal secretions and is a common method of diagnosing the infections.

The doctor will then explain to the patient what is causing their symptoms. The doctor may write prescriptions for prescription medications or over-the-counter medications to help with the symptoms and may even write a doctors note (for school or work) if the patient is contagious.

To help alleviate their symptoms, patients can turn to a variety of non-prescription medicines including:

  • Tylenol, Ibuprofen, and Aspirin
  • Nasal decongestants
  • Antihistamines
  • Cough medicines
  • Sore throat soothers

If you have any questions or need more information about treating the cold or the flu, please feel free to contact us.