How to Know if You Have Cold or Flu

Winter is officially upon us. Unfortunately, along with it come influenza and a rise in common colds, which are both caused by viruses. Knowing the difference between the cold and the flu can help you decide if, or when, you need to see your doctor.

Influenza, or “flu,” season typically extends from November through March. The main symptoms of the flu are high fever (102 to 104 degrees Fahrenheit), headaches, exhaustion, cough and muscle aches.

The muscle aches are often severe and people often say they feel they were “hit by a truck.” Symptoms of stuffy nose, sneezing and sore throat can be present but are less severe.

Influenza does not involve any “stomach flu” symptoms like vomiting or diarrhea. The symptoms often come on rapidly, within hours. The best way to take care of yourself if you have the flu is to rest and keep drinking fluids.

You should also take an over-thecounter pain reliever for the fever and muscle pain. The first three-to-five days of the flu are the worst. After that time, the symptoms start to improve, but fatigue and weakness can continue for two-to-three weeks.

If you are diagnosed with influenza, you should stay home from work or school so you do not spread the virus. Ask your doctor about the signs of pneumonia, the most serious complication of flu. The common cold, on the other hand, is seen year-round, with a few peaks throughout

the year, including winter.

On average, an adult will get a cold two-to-three times per year and children as many as three-to-five times per year. The symptoms of a cold typically start with a sore throat followed closely by nasal congestion and sneezing. Around day four or five, a cough usually develops and the nasal symptoms improve somewhat. Fatigue and mild body aches can persist throughout the cold.

Symptoms typically last for 10 days but can last two weeks in some people.

So how can you prevent getting a cold or influenza?

Eat healthily, stay hydrated and active. Use a humidifier to help keep your nasal passages moist, as dry nasal passages are more likely to let the virus in. Use disposable tissues rather than handkerchiefs. Avoid sharing personal items, like towels and utensils, and wash your hands.

Finally, specifically for the flu, consider getting the flu shot!

For more info, please visit the Centers for Disease Control (CDC) and Prevention website and search “common cold” and/or call them at (404) 645-3355.

Donna Habeck, MD, is a Prevea Health, Internal Health and former Healthy Sheboygan County 2020 Member.