So, it happened, that crud everyone says is floating around has struck. You’re hacking, sneezing and hurt all over.
Should you worry? Is this the common cold or the flu?
“Because the common cold and the flu have overlapping symptoms, it’s easy to mistake one for the other,” said Barton County Health Director Shelly Schenider. Although different illnesses, the flu and the common cold are both respiratory illnesses, but they are caused by different viruses.
“We are starting to see an upswing in illness locally,” she said. “So be aware and stay home if you are starting to feel ill.
She offered the following tips to differentiate the two ailments.
A cold is a viral upper respiratory tract infection that typically affects the nasal part of the respiratory system, she said. The infection is usually mild and goes away without treatment. Symptoms may include a runny nose, headache, and sneezing. About half of patients can also experience a cough or sore throat.
A cough that persists after other cold symptoms have cleared up may indicate bronchitis, sometimes called a chest cold, which is an inflammation of the airways in the lungs.
Colds are most common in winter and spring months, and usually last seven to 10 days. “You can help prevent a cold with frequent handwashing and by avoiding contact with people who have a cold,” Schneider said.
The flu is caused by the influenza virus and lasts about five to seven days, Schneider said. Symptoms of seasonal flu typically include fever, fatigue, headache, and muscle aches.
“The best way to avoid getting the flu is by getting a flu shot,” she said. It takes about two weeks after the injection for it to start protecting you.
“You should get your flu vaccine before the flu season starts,” she said. “This not only reduces your risk of the flu, it also protects more vulnerable people around you who may not have good immunity, such as the elderly, people with chronic illnesses, or small children.”
A common complication of the flu is pneumonia.
Flu activity typically peaks between December and February, but flu season can last as late as May. Depending on the severity of the influenza season, 5-20 percent of the population may get influenza each year.
However, even with the season in full swing, “it’s never too late,” she said.
Schneider said everyone 6 months or older should get the flu shot.
Should I go to the doctor?
Colds and flu are not treated with antibiotics and rarely require a trip to the doctor. While the flu can occasionally be life-threatening for those with reduced immunity, for most people the best remedy for a speedy recovery from a cold or flu is usually rest and plenty of fluids.
Schneider recommends seeking medical attention if you experience shortness of breath or trouble breathing, pain or pressure in the chest or stomach, dizziness when standing, decreased urination, confusion, inability to keep fluids down, or a fever lasting more than 48 hours. If you experience any of these symptoms, visit your primary care doctor or urgent care as soon as possible.
Can I prevent flu or cold symptoms?
The most important prevention measure for preventing colds and flu is frequent hand washing. Hand washing by rubbing the hands with warm soapy water for at least 20 seconds helps to slough germs off the skin.
In addition to hand washing to prevent flu or cold symptoms, you can also get a flu vaccine to prevent seasonal influenza. Seasonal flu activity in the United States generally peaks between late December and early March. Within two weeks of getting a flu vaccine, antibodies develop in the body and provide protection against flu. Children receiving the vaccine for the first time need two doses delivered one month apart.
Antiviral medicine may also help prevent flu if you have been exposed to someone with flu symptoms.