If you’re scouring the shelves at your local pharmacy for something to beat the coughing, sneezing, and overall icky feeling that’s synonymous with being sick, you’re not alone. On average, adults experience two to three colds per year and children contract even more.
There are several respiratory viruses that develop into a cold, but Rhinovirus is the most common. However, its close cousin, Influenza (better known as the Flu) shares many of the same symptoms. It’s important to pay close attention to your symptoms, as ignoring them in viruses’ early stages can mean a longer recuperation, and in some cases more intense consequences such as hospitalization and even death.
Both viruses are contracted in similar ways – contact with someone who has the cold or flu, having an already weakened immune system, being elderly or very young, and being overtired or stressed. If you’re confused deciphering between the symptoms of the flu and a cold – that’s no coincidence; many of them overlap. In some cases, a test administered by a physician is the only true way to diagnose the flu. So what is the difference between the flu and a regular cold?
Symptoms, and what to look for
If your symptoms intensify, this is indicative of the flu; within three to six hours of coming down with the flu you’ll feel fever, chills, headache, body aches and pain, cough, and fatigue. Contrastingly, the cold develops slowly over the course of a few days. Tamiflu and Relenza – two effective prescription meds for combating the flu, are most effective when taken within 48 hours of getting sick. For this reason, you may have heard physicians stress the importance of treating the flu promptly.
A main distinguishing factor between the cold and flu is the region the virus targets. For the most part, a cold presents itself from the neck above – affecting a localized area of the upper respiratory tract, which includes your nose and throat. That’s why you may experience sniffling, sneezing, and a runny nose. Influenza, on the other hand, infects the entirety of the respiratory system. The nose, throat, bronchial tubes, and lungs are all susceptible. Consider your cough; is it productive or a dry, hacking one? If you identify with the latter, it’s a telling sign the flu may be in play. As a precaution, never ignore wheezing, shortness of breath, and chest pains – which could be signs of pneumonia, or a blood clot in the lungs.
Listen to your Body’s Thermostat
Take your child’s temperature, keeping mindful of any changes that occur over the course of the first few days. A consistent fever (even one that isn’t alarmingly high), especially when coupled with fatigue and body aches, may signify the flu. Be sure to keep a reliable thermometer (with extra batteries of it is electronic) one on hand during flu season for impromptu checks.
The common cold often rears its head between the winter and spring months, and typically has a duration of seven to ten days. Flu season in the United States can begin as early as October and last as late as the month of May. While the influenza virus stays in a patient’s system for five to seven days, the lingering cough and fatigue can last up to two weeks.
Take preventive measures to limit your susceptibility to both viruses; the best defense against the flu is immunization – with a different vaccine being developed each year. If you’re trying to sidestep a cold this year, frequent handwashing and avoiding sick people are the simplest ways to reduce risk. Upping your vitamin C, getting enough rest, and limiting stress may also help reduce your risk of both colds and flu.
Next time your little one is feeling under the weather, don’t play the guessing game – instead, pop in to Tots N Teens Pediatric Urgent Care. Their expert physicians are trained to identify viruses such as the common cold or the hardier flu virus. If a child is refusing to drink fluids, is irritable or confused, or has a lingering fever, it’s time to get to the doctor right away. For more information about the services offered at Tots N Teens Pediatric Urgent Care, call 210-267-5411.