Is it a Cold or the Flu?
Every year cold-and-flu season sprinkles its misery on just about everyone. According to the Centers for Disease Control, Americans suffer from a staggering one billion colds every year and have a 20 percent chance of getting the flu. Adults average 2-4 colds a year; kids typically get more, with some getting as many as 12 colds every year.
You and your family may be next, and it is important to know whether you have a cold or flu.
Colds rarely cause serious complications; only about one percent of cases lead to complications (mostly sinus or ear infections). The flu, on the other hand, is responsible for around 200,000 hospitalizations every year. A virus is the cause of both colds and flu and though they share many symptoms, each illness has telltale signs.
Flu versus Cold
In general, flu tends to come on fast, makes you feel exhausted, and is more intense. The flu comes and goes quickly. Flu is more likely to leave you with a lingering cough or feeling tired for weeks. If your muscles are achy and you have a temperature, you most likely have the flu. You are the most contagious five to seven days from when you first feel bad.
Colds, on the other hand, start with a runny or stuffy nose and maybe a sore throat that you may have felt coming on for days. When you have a cold, you either don’t have a fever, or it is very mild. You are most contagious during the first three days of getting a cold, during that sore throat phase.
If you are coughing, sneezing, or have a sore throat, then you are more likely to be in the cold camp, where a headache will put you more in the flu camp; but these symptoms are shared by both illnesses.
Take a look at this chart to determine if it is a cold or flu:
Prevention is the Key
As with almost any illness, prevention is your best strategy. When you start seeing that people are getting sick around you, remember to eat well, exercise, and get enough sleep. The number one prevention tool you have is to wash your hands frequently.
When to Pay Attention
The big concern about colds and flu is not the illness itself, but what occurs afterwards.
Bacterial infections (which can be much worse than a virus) are more likely to happen in someone with the flu. Any long-lasting fever suggests a bacterial infection. If a cold goes on for more than 4 or 5 days, or if you are coughing up yellow phlegm, then you should to seek the advice of a doctor.
Severe flu, like the Swine flu, is associated with persistent vomiting and diarrhea. Pneumonia (lung infection) typically presents as a fever that returns after being gone for a few days.
The warning signs that mean you should visit your doctor are painful swallowing, a long persistent cough, vomiting, severe diarrhea, shortness of breath, or any rash. Most colds and flu come and go without any problems and are easy to take care of on your own. Paying attention to your symptoms will help guide you in your decision to seek additional care.