You’re tired, and you have a stuffed up nose, sore and scratchy throat, aches all over, and constant sneezing. You know you’re sick, but do you have a cold or that dreadful, stubborn flu? The differences between the common cold and the flu can be subtle, but with a little education and awareness, you’ll be able to tell them apart and know what you need to do to get better.

Below, we’ll spell out what you should be on the lookout for to differentiate between a cold and the flu and share key tips and strategies to manage the condition better.

What Is the Difference Between a Cold and the Flu?

A cold is a viral upper respiratory tract infection that is easy to pass along to others. Over two hundred different viruses can bring on a cold, the most common one being the rhinovirus which causes roughly half of all colds.

The flu is also a strain of respiratory infection brought about by the influenza A or B viruses. The flu can develop into more severe illnesses such as pneumonia, bronchitis, and sinus or ear infections. You can catch a cold any time of year. However, the flu virus usually is seasonal.

Most adults come down with about two to three colds every year, and the number is higher with children. Colds keep kids out of school more than 20 million days annually. As far as the flu goes, it can affect anywhere from 5% to 20% of the population and is responsible for some 200,000 hospital visits per year for flu-like symptoms.

What Are the Symptoms of a Cold or Flu?

Although they generally resemble each other, cold and flu symptoms have subtle differences, so if you know what to look for, you may be able to better gauge what you’re dealing with. In general, cold symptoms are not as severe as the flu, and typically do not cause serious health problems.

Cold or the FluCold symptoms include:

  • Runny or stuffed up nose
  • Sore throat
  • Sneezing
  • Rare fever
  • Coughing
  • Slight aches

Flu symptoms include:

  • Presence of a moderate to high fever
  • Occasional stuffy nose, sore throat, or sneezing
  • Dry coughing
  • Headaches
  • Fatigue and weakness
  • Severe aching
  • Fairly common chills

The common cold involves a gradual onset of symptoms that usually clear up on their own, whereas with influenza, most people see a sudden outbreak of symptoms.

In most cases, a cold or flu is not treated with antibiotics. Plenty of rest and drinking of fluids normally has patients back on their feet and functioning regularly within seven to ten days. You should seek medical attention if you notice any severe or unusual symptoms or if you:

  • Experience shortness of breath
  • Have serious pain or pressure in the chest area or the stomach
  • Get dizzy when standing
  • Cannot keep fluids down
  • Have a fever that persists for more than 48 hours (especially if it’s greater than 100.4)

How Can You Prevent Cold and Flu?

Colds and the flu are transmitted by coming into contact with people already infected by the virus. Beyond direct contact, you can also catch a cold by touching surfaces containing germs such as a spoon, a toy, or a door handle, and then touching your face near your nose or mouth. Germs can also fan out through the air via coughing or sneezing.

Your most effective weapon against catching a cold or flu is washing your hands, especially after you cough or sneeze. Avoiding contact with those who have cold or flu symptoms will also increase your odds of staying healthy. Most health providers recommend regular flu shots prior to flu season which typically runs from October until April or May.  

Treating Cold and Flu at Interlachen Family Practice

A thorough exam of your nose, throat, and ears will allow your primary care physician to diagnose your condition. When needed, your physician may recommend a Rapid Influenza Diagnostic Test (RIDT), an effective way to analyze your nasal secretions and determine the nature of your virus.

Your doctor may prescribe over-the-counter medicine to help reduce your symptoms and can provide a doctor’s note if you need to stay home from work or school.

Different non-prescription medications exist to help you find relief from your symptoms including:

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

Prescription medications known as antiviral drugs may be recommended by your physician to treat the flu. Antiviral drugs fight viruses in your body. They differ from antibiotics that attack bacterial infection.

If you or a loved one are suffering from cold or flu-like symptoms or if you need further information about cold or flu treatment, please feel free to contact us.

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