The Nation's Health + [social project]

Is it a Cold or the Flu?

Swine Flu

Every year when cold and flu season approaches, the question is asked over and over: “Do I have the flu or just a cold”? And sometimes, the answer can be quite tricky.

Colds and flu often share many symptoms, including headache, congestion, coughing, sneezing, sore throat and runny nose. And, both can leave you feeling bad for several days.

There are a couple of telltale signs that you might have the flu rather than a cold. The first is the speed of onset of symptoms. With a cold, symptoms usually appear gradually; you can usually tell that you’re coming down with a cold. Flu symptoms, on the other hand, usually come on rapidly, with no forewarning.

In addition, fever with the flu is typically higher: often over 102 degrees, while a cold usually produces only a low grade fever if any at all.

The flu often causes chills and sweats and may cause nausea and a loss of appetite.

Both flu and colds can cause muscle aches. However, with the flu the symptoms are most often located in the back, arms and legs and can be quite severe. Colds can cause fatigue, but fatigue with the flu is also more severe.

Whether it’s cold or the flu, rest is important to help you heal a bit faster. If the flu is caught early enough, there are some anti-viral medications that can significantly shorten its duration, so it may be worth going to the doctor if you can get in right away. Really! However, in most cases, you do not really have to see a doctor with a case of the flu. However, if you experience any of the following symptoms, call your doctor immediately.

High, prolonged fever over 102 degrees, coupled with fatigue and achiness
Symptoms lasting more than 10 days or getting worse rather than better
Trouble breathing or shortness of breath
Feeling faint or disoriented
Severe or persistent vomiting
Pain or pressure in the chest
The best way to treat the flu is to prevent it. Getting a flu shot each year is a good idea, especially if you’re in a high risk category. This includes people with compromised immune systems, the elderly and young children. But, anyone who is in contact with the public on a regular basis can often benefit from a flu shot.

Once symptoms have presented themselves, it’s important to do your part to prevent the spread of colds and flu. Here are some tips:

Stay home when you’re sick.
Cover your coughs and sneezes; sneeze and cough into your arm, not your hands
Wash your hands frequently

Each year, thousands of people contract colds and flu, and most cases are not serious. However, if someone in your family is in a high risk category, with current health issues or a compromised immune system, you should seek medical attention more quickly than for a healthy person. It’s important for all families to keep colds and flu under control each winter season.