You wake up with a scratchy throat and runny nose. Add a pounding head and cough, and you’re set for a day in bed. You assume it must be a common cold, right? Well, not necessarily.
Common cold shares many symptoms with a potentially more serious condition called “flu” (seasonal flu). Recognizing when your illness is mild, like a cold, or when it’s more serious, like the flu, is crucial. While a cold might mean some extra rest and a day or two off work, the flu may require medical attention. Here are 2 quick tips that will help you differentiate your cold from the flu.
1. Locate where your symptoms are
– Head (eyes, nose, or throat): You are likely to have a cold.
– Whole body: You are likely to have the flu.
Symptoms of cold vs flu
-Fever (rare in cold, common in flu)
-Aches and pains (rare in cold, common in flu)
-Chills (rare in cold, common in flu)
-Stuffy nose & sneezing (common in cold, rare in flu)
-Sore throat (common in cold, rare in flu)
A good rule of thumb: If you have a sore throat, it’s more likely a cold than flu in general.
2. Mark it on the calendar
Colds are most common in the transition of seasons, while flu typically picks up a little bit later. While there is considerable overlap, far fewer people suffer from the flu outside of this season. Also, the symptoms develop gradually in cold while flu generally has an abrupt onset.
Your doctor may advise special tests to check if you have the flu. These usually must be done within the first few days of illness.
What Should You Do Next?
Untreated flu or cold can sometimes lead to various conditions like pneumonia, sinus or ear infections, etc. So do take right precautions.
-Inhale steam 2-3 times a day to clear off congestion
-Best bet is to stay hydrated and get adequate rest
-Washing your hands frequently can reduce the spread of the virus.
-If you think you might have the flu, get to the doctor
-Take medicines as and when advised by the doctor
-Especially important for people with conditions like COPD, asthma, heart disease, diabetes, weakened immune systems, pregnancy, etc.
*You may need to see a doctor for better care if fever and aches are present or condition worsens. People with diabetes are six times at risk of getting hospitalized due to flu than nondiabetics. Know more on how to prevent the flu if you or a loved one has diabetes.
Antibiotics are not effective either against the common cold or the flu. So do not self-medicate. Take an antibiotic only as and when advised by a doctor. Getting an annual flu shot can go a long way in protecting you from the flu and lowering the severity of the infection, especially if you have chronic health problems. Ask your doctor to know more about influenza vaccination today!
Note: Seasonal flu is not the same as swine flu or bird flu.
(The article is reviewed by Dr. Swati Mishra, Medical Editor)