Is It a Cold or the Flu?

by: Gina Allen, FNP,

It can be hard to discern a common cold from the flu. A cold can be caused by more than 200 different viruses while the flu is often caused by the influenza A and B viruses. Here’s how to tell the difference between these two viral illnesses and what you can do to get back to feeling well.

Cold vs. Flu Symptoms
While the symptoms of cold and flu are quite similar, there are some key differences. Both often involve a cough, runny nose and sore throat. However, the flu usually comes with body aches and a high fever. Children might also experience vomiting and diarrhea with the flu. Compared to the common cold, the flu comes on more suddenly and the symptoms are much more severe.

How to Treat It
Many over-the-counter or at-home remedies can help alleviate the symptoms of cold or flu. These treatments might include medications like Tylenol, ibuprofen and throat lozenges. You can also gargle warm salt water to ease a sore throat. Beyond this, it’s important to stay hydrated and keep good nutrition.

If you’re diagnosed with the flu, your doctor may prescribe Tamiflu, an antiviral medication that generally shortens the duration of the influenza virus by 12 to 24 hours if started immediately. The best way to protect yourself during flu season — which can last as late as May — is to get a flu shot. While it doesn’t ensure you won’t get the flu, it reduces the likelihood and dramatically decreases the severity of its symptoms.

When to Seek Emergency Care
If you experience a fever of 104 or above not relieved by Tylenol or ibuprofen, difficulty breathing, extreme shortness of breath, pain or pressure in the chest, sudden dizziness or confusion, persistent vomiting or flu-like symptoms that improve but return worse and with a fever, visit the emergency room. These are red-flag symptoms that need greater medical attention.

Whether you have the flu or just a common cold, be aware of symptoms and know when to seek care. With the proper treatment, you can feel better and get healthy sooner.

Gina Allen, FNP, is a board-certified family nurse practitioner at BJC Convenient Care located at 2630 Highway K in O’Fallon, Missouri. BJC Convenient Care is open seven days a week from 8 a.m. to 8 p.m. for patients age 2 and over. For more information, please call 636.928.WELL.