This time of year it seems like everyone is sick. Colds and stomach bugs and even the FLU. But sometimes it’s hard to differentiate between a cold or the full blown flu especially for those of us with weakened immune systems. Influenza is a dangerous bug for those of us who are immune-suppressed/immunocompromised. A “normal” person might only be down with the flu for a few days, those of us who have Auto-Immune diseases could be down for weeks. Or even end up hospitalized and critically ill. That being said the true flu is nothing to mess around with. So let’s look at the differences between a cold and the flu, as well as how they are both treated!! In most cases the flu is worse then any cold virus, and the symptoms can be very different.
Let’s look at the symptoms of a cold & the flu:.
1. Fever/Chills- The majority of influenza cases start with a fever that can last between 4-5 days!! Cold viruses may cause a low grade temp, while influenza causes high temps of 102 and higher. The higher the fever the more likely you are to have the chills. The higher the temp the better chance you have the flu, rather than a cold.
2. Muscle Aches– One if the biggest reasons you feel so awful when you have the flu is the muscle aches!! Any slight movement can make you hurt everywhere!!! You would most likely notice the aches in the chest, back and legs. Muscle aches are seen with the flu and are not common with the common cold.
3. Fatigue– The fatigue from the flu is not like the everyday fatigue from everyday life. It is an intense feeling of exhaustion and weakness! Sadly, this fatigue may last several weeks before you return back to your normal health! The weakness and exhaustion can last up to 3 weeks or longer in the elderly or those with chronic illnesses or weak immune systems. With a common cold the fatigue and exhaustion will not be as intense and generally takes much less time to resolve, usually only 2-3 days.
4. Cough– The cold and flu are a respiratory disease which means they attack the lungs! Therefore, with patients with the flu and cold a cough is common. However, with the flu the cough usually begins with a sore throat which then develops into a persistent dry cough that usually happens in two to three days. Pneumonia is a common complication of the flu especially with those who have weakened immune symptoms. If you continue to cough and start coughing up yellow or green mucous along with chest pain make sure to call your doctor!!
5. Shortness of breath or not difficulty breathing- This is one of the most common symptoms of the flu because of the congestion and persistent cough! The flu can also cause chest pain because of the shortness of breath. The chest tightness is caused by restricted nasal passages. If you have any kind of lung disease this may be worse for you!! Shortness of breath is not a common symptom of the common cold.
6. Sneezing – The cold and flu is easily spread by sneezing or coughing. In order to prevent the spread of either, please make sure you are covering you cough and you are sneezing into a tissue.However, keep in mind that those droplets from your sneeze will remain on your fingers. So be use your wash you hands good or using a good alcohol based sanitizer.
7. Nausea, vomiting and diarrhea- These are common symptoms with the flu! If you have persistent vomiting or diarrhea make sure that you are drinking as much as you can to keep yourself hydrated or call your doctor for IV fluids!! Nausea, vomiting & diarrhea are not typically seen in a simple cold!
8. Headache – While a headache is not a reliable indicator that you actually have the flu, it is a common symptom. But can also be seen with a cold. A headache caused by a cold is much less severe than those caused by the flu. The flu typically causes inflammation of the mucous membranes and the sinus cavities, which in turn causes pressure around your eyes and face, causing a severe headache.
9. Stuffy Nose – If you have a stuffy nose with no body aches or fever, and some minor fatigue, most likely it is just a cold. Both the flu and cold can lead to a sinus infection that can be felt as a deep and constant pain in the face, the head and your nose. If you feel like you have developed a sinus infection contact your doctor.
10. Ear Ache – An earache causes by the flu can range from a dull ache to extreme burning. And the severity can range in severity from mild to moderate. Both the flu and colds can irritate the Eustachian tube, that connects the throat to the middle ear, and can cause full pain in the ears. The pain should go away on its own as the flu or cold gets better!
So what can you do for a cold or the flu, how do you treat them?!? For a cold it’s all about symptom management. So over the counter meds for fever, sinus congestion etc. For the flu you should see your dr. If they test you and you have the flu they may prescribe an anti-viral medication. The anti-viral meds can only be given with the first two to three days after symptoms develop. You can also treat the flu like the cold, with symptom management. Decongestants, fever reducing meds, etc. However, if you feel like you are developing pneumonia or other complications from the flu you will need to call your dr for an exam to determine further treatment.
The big thing to remember is to STAY HOME if you think you have the flu!! And if you have to go out wear a mask! The flu is very easily spread through droplets and contact with those droplets. You don’t want to be spreading the flu everywhere you go!!