How can I tell if I have a cold or the flu?
When you wake up sneezing, coughing, and have that achy, feverish, can’t move a muscle feeling, how do you know whether you have cold symptoms or the flu? It may be hard to tell. During this time of year, we see lots of patients who think that they are suffering from one, only to find that they have the other. Knowing the Common Symptoms is the first step in this puzzle.
Do I have a cold?
Cold symptoms usually begin with a sore throat, which may away after a day or two. Nasal symptoms, runny nose, and congestion follow, along with a cough by the fourth and fifth days. Fever is uncommon in adults, but a slight fever is possible. Children may be more likely to have a fever with a cold.
With cold symptoms, your nose teems with watery nasal secretions for the first few days. Later, these become thicker and darker. Dark mucus is natural and does not usually mean you have developed a bacterial infection, such as a sinus infection.
Cold symptoms usually last for about a week. During the first three days that you have cold symptoms, you are contagious. This means you can pass the cold to others, so stay home and get some much-needed rest. So let’s recap. The common cold:
- Will have progressive symptoms. It usually starts with sore throats, then nasal symptoms and congestion. Cough can show up after a few days.
- Is most contagious during the first three days of the cold. Wash your hands often and use proper hygiene.
- Can last for longer than a week.
Do I have the flu?
Flu symptoms are usually more severe than cold symptoms and come on quickly. Symptoms of flu include sore throat, fever, headache, muscle aches and soreness, congestion, and cough.
Most flu symptoms gradually improve over two to five days, but it’s not uncommon to feel run down for a week or more. A common complication of the flu is pneumonia, particularly in the young, elderly, or people with lung or heart problems. If you notice shortness of breath, you should let your doctor know. Another common sign of pneumonia is fever that comes back after having been gone for a day or two.
In general, flu symptoms will include: Fever, Headache, Extreme tiredness, Sore throat, Muscle aches and stomach symptoms such as nausea, vomiting, and diarrhea.
Cold vs. Flu
While many of these symptoms sound similar, the difference will be in their severity. The way that we treat the two maladies is different as well. For common colds, most treatments are OTC – or over-the-counter. These can include decongestants, pain relievers, and fever reducing medicines.
Treatments for the flu
Decongestants, pain relievers, or fever reducers are available over the counter (over-the-counter cough and cold medicines should not be given to young children) prescription antiviral drugs for flu may be given in some cases. Visit one of our nearby clinics for more information about flu treatment options available in your area.
Because the flu can sometimes cause serious complications, it’s critical that you see a healthcare professional if you experience persistent coughing, congestion or fever, or if swallowing becomes difficult or painful, as these may be signs of more serious infections or conditions.
If you experience dizziness, severe headache or chest pain, persistent vomiting, confusion or shortness of breath, seek immediate medical treatment.