Feeling sick? Learning how to tell the difference between a cold and the flu is the first step to getting better. This guide will help you identify symptoms, remedies and prevention methods so you can stay healthy year-round.
What is a Cold?
There are many viruses that can cause a common cold, but the most common is the rhinovirus. The rhinovirus alone has 160 strains, which means you can get sick from more than one cold. Unfortunately, there’s no cure or vaccine for the common cold.
Common Cold Remedies and Symptoms
Even without a cure for the cold, using well-known home remedies, as well as over-the-counter medications, can make you feel better. In healthy individuals, symptoms usually improve after a few days, but it can take as long as a week.
Cold symptoms may include:
- Stuffy or runny nose
- Sore throat
- Mild body aches, headaches or fever
These at-home cold remedies can help you manage your symptoms:
- Stay hydrated with water, soup and other liquids.
- Avoid alcohol and caffeine.
- Gargle salt water for a sore throat.
- Try cool humidifiers or nasal saline drops and sprays for congestion.
Medications for aches and pains, such as Tylenol or ibuprofen, can also be useful in treating symptoms. For children, always ask a family physician or pediatrician before using medicine to treat a cold. For adults, over-the-counter cold medications can interact with other medications you might be taking, so be sure to check with your doctor.
Most of all, rest. Taking a day off can greatly decrease the duration of your symptoms and help you feel better faster
What Is the Flu?
Flu is caused by the influenza virus. While there are several types of the influenza virus, most are caused by influenza A and B. This is much more defined than the numerous strains that cause the common cold, making it possible to have antivirals and vaccines that help reduce symptoms and prevent contraction of the virus.
Flu Symptoms and Remedies
Compared to colds, the flu is a greater health concern. It can cause severe illness and even death in some circumstances. Symptoms are often more abrupt and can feel worse than that of the common cold. Symptoms include:
- Body aches and fever
- Shortness of breath or difficulty breathing.
- Fatigue (tiredness)
- Sore throat.
- Runny or stuffy nose.
- Muscle pain or body aches.
Flu symptoms can last anywhere from a few days to two weeks in healthy individuals. While symptom relief and remedies are similar between cold and flu, one key difference is that the flu is treatable with antivirals.
Antivirals aren’t a total cure for the flu, but they do reduce the duration by about 24 hours, as well as the severity of symptoms. Antivirals are recommended for certain patients who are at high risk of complications from the flu, but it’s important to start them as soon as possible. Speak to your doctor right away if you think you may have the flu.
Unlike the cold, you can receive immunizations to prevent the flu. Getting vaccinated is the best way to stay healthy and greatly reduce your chances of falling ill with the flu. Because it takes a few weeks to build immunity once you’ve been vaccinated, getting a flu shot in the early fall is recommended. That way, you can maximize your protection against the virus, as peak flu season usually spans from late winter to late spring.
It’s important to remember that hand hygiene, avoiding close contact with other ill individuals, wearing a mask if you’re sick and covering your cough can also help prevent the flu.
It’s not always easy to tell the difference between a cold and the flu, so pay close attention to the severity and onset of your symptoms. If you’re having trouble breathing, are experiencing a high fever, are unable to swallow or are producing green phlegm with your cough, contact your doctor right away or seek emergency medical care.