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Cold Versus Flu: How to Tell the Difference

Posted by Ethanngo1636781 on 12 Jan, 2017

Colds and flus are the enemy of any hard-working person just trying to make it an illness-free winter. While both conditions can make you feel sniffly, sneezy, and altogether tired, the flu will usually do so on a much longer scale. Each condition is caused by a virus, but each is a separate virus. For example, colds are caused by rhinoviruses that irritate the nasal passages and upper airways. Flus are caused by the flu virus, of which there are many different strains. 

To better know what to expect, here are some ways to identify if your condition is a cold or the dreaded flu. 

DURATION

Typically, a cold will last a much shorter duration than the flu. A cold will typically start as a sore throat and progress to runny nose, congestion, and cough. Flu symptoms tend to come on much faster and can include sore throat, fever, headache, and muscle aches. Most people with a cold begin to feel better about three to five days after starting to experience symptoms. However, those with the flu can feel bad for anywhere from seven to 14 days. If your symptoms drag out beyond the five-day mark, chances are you have the flu. 

SYMPTOM SEVERITY

Symptom severity is usually the distinguishing characteristic between colds and flus. While a person with either condition may experience cough, sore throat, and nasal congestion, the symptoms are usually much more severe in a person with flu. The flu can also cause more severe symptoms, including muscle pains, diarrhea, vomiting, and general malaise or lack of energy. However, some colds can cause symptoms that feel almost as severe as the flu. 

FEVER

A fever of greater than 101 degrees Fahrenheit is unlikely when you have a cold. If you do have the flu, you can experience fevers of 101 degrees or higher. This can lead to dehydration as well as fatigue, confusion, and muscle pain. 

COMPLICATIONS

The flu can be a very serious condition that can lead to health complications. Examples include pneumonia as well as organ failure. This is especially true when a person is immunocomprised, such as someone who is very young or old as well as a person with a chronic illness, such as HIV or AIDS.

Sometimes there are symptoms that indicate a person should seek immediate medical attention after a cold and/or flu. Examples include chest pain, severe headache, dizziness, confusion, and/or shortness of breath. 

PREVENTING COLDS AND THE FLU

Take steps to shield yourself from viruses and infections to stay healthy all winter long. Proper hand washing and daily exercise can decrease your chances of becoming sick. The best way to protect yourself from the illness is by getting a flu shot. Flu shots aren't 100% effective, but they still offer the best line of defense. Flu vaccines work to build antibodies against the three influenza viruses that are most likely to be prevalent during flu season. The Center for Disease Control (CDC) recommends that anyone over six months of age get vaccinated.

While fall is the best time to get a flu shot, vaccinations later in the season can still provide protection, as flu shots generally take only two weeks to become effective. According to the CDC, the flu season generally peaks in January or February, but the entire season typically runs from October to May.

Urgent Clinics Medical Care offers flu shots at our walk-in clinics in Pearland, Champions, The Woodlands and 3 locations in League City: Creekside, Marina Bay and Tuscan Lakes. We offer an inactivated influenza trivalent vaccine suitable for ages 4 and above. This flu shot contains non-infectious particles and cannot cause the flu. It is intended to provide protection against illness due to influenza, and does not protect against all respiratory illnesses. Patients 4 to 8 years of age that have never received the flu shot will require two doses given one month apart. Patients 8 years of age and above should receive a single injection annually.

The cost of the vaccine is $25 at any of our Houston area locations. Or, you can make an appointment and we will come to you. On-site flu shots are $35 per person.

Rachel Nall, RN, BSN, CCRN

 

 

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