The regular cold and the flu may seem similar at first. They are both respiratory illnesses and can create similar symptoms. But different viruses cause these two conditions. Your symptoms will assist you tell the difference between the two.
Both a cold and the flu share a few common signs. People with either illness often experience:
- a runny or stuffy nose
- body aches
- general fatigue
As a standard, flu symptoms are more severe than cold symptoms.
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Another distinct difference between the two is how serious they are. Colds rarely cause other health conditions or issues. But the flu can lead to sinus and ear infections, pneumonia, and sepsis.
To know whether your symptoms are from a cold or from the flu, you have to see your doctor. Your doctor will run tests that can help know what’s behind your symptoms.
If your doctor diagnoses a cold, you’ll only have to treat your symptoms until the virus has run its course. These treatments can be inclusive of using over-the-counter (OTC) cold medications, staying hydrated, and getting plenty of rest.
Taking an OTC flu medicine early in the virus’ cycle may also assist. Rest and hydration are also beneficial for people with the flu. Much like the common cold, the flu just requires time to work its way through your body.
What are the symptoms of the flu?
Common symptoms of the flu are inclusive of:
Fever: The flu almost always creates an increase in your body temperature. This is also referred to as a fever. Most flu-related fevers start from a low-grade fever around 100°F (37.8°C) to as high as 104°F (40°C). Although alarming, it’s not uncommon for young children to have higher fevers than adults. If you suspect your child has the flu, see your doctor.
You may feel “feverish” when you have an elevated temperature. Signs include chills, sweats, or being cold despite your body’s high temperature. Most fevers last for less than one week, usually around three to four days.
Cough: A dry, persistent cough is common with the flu. The cough may worsen, becoming uncomfortable and painful. You may also experience shortness of breath or chest discomfort during this time. Many flu-related coughs can stay for about two weeks.
Muscle aches: These flu-related muscle pains are most observed in your neck, back, arms, and legs. They can often be severe, making it hard to move even when trying to carry out basic tasks.
Headache: Your first signs and symptom of the flu may be a severe headache. Sometimes eye signs, including light and sound sensitivity, vanish along with your headache.
Fatigue: Feeling tired is a not-so-obvious symptom of the flu. Feeling generally unwell can be a symptoms of many conditions. These feelings of tiredness and fatigue may come on fast and be difficult to overcome.
Flu shot: Know the facts
Influenza is a serious virus that results in many illnesses each year. You don’t have to be young or have a compromised immune system to get ill from the infection. Healthy people can get sick from the flu and spread it to friends and family. In some cases, the flu can even be deadly. Flu-related deaths are most frequent in people over age 65.
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The best and most efficient way to stay off the flu and prevent spreading it is to get a vaccination. The flu vaccine is offered as an injectable shot. The more people vaccinated against the flu, the less the flu can spread.
How does the flu shot work?
To make the vaccine, scientists select the strains of the flu virus that study suggests will be the most common in the coming flu season. Millions of vaccines with those strains are created and distributed.
Once you get the vaccine your body begins producing antibodies against those strains of the virus. These antibodies offer protection against the virus. If you come into contact with the flu virus at a later point, you can prevent an infection. You may get sick If you end up coming into contact with a different strain of the virus. But the signs will be less severe because you had the vaccination.
Who should get the flu shot?
Doctors advice that everyone over the age of 6 months receive the flu vaccine.
This is especially applicable to people in high-risk categories, like:
- adults over age 65
- women who are pregnant
- children under age 5
- people with weakened immune systems because of chronic illness
Most doctors also advice everyone gets their flu vaccine by the end of October. This way your body has time to develop the right antibodies before flu season kicks into gear. It takes about two weeks for antibodies to develop against the flu after vaccination.
How long does the flu last?
Most people will recover from the flu in somewhat about one week. But it may take several more days for you to feel back to your usual self. It’s not uncommon for you to feel tired for many days after your flu symptoms have subsided.
It’s vital you stay home from school or work until you haven’t had a fever for at least 24 hours. This is without taking fever-reducing medications. If you have the flu, you’re contagious a day before your symptoms show up and up to five to seven days afterward.
Side effects of the flu shot
Many people recorded avoiding the flu vaccine each year for fear that it will make them sick. It’s vital to understand that the flu vaccine can’t cause you to develop the flu. You aren’t going to become sick because you got the vaccine.
Flu vaccines contain dead or weakened strains of the flu virus. These strains aren’t strong enough to cause an illness.
You may notice some side effects from the flu shot. These side effects are often mild and only last a short period of time. The side effects of a shot outweigh the possible signs of a flu infection later.
The most common side effects of the flu shot include:
- soreness around the flu shot injection site
- low-grade fever in the days immediately following the injection
- mild aches and stiffness
Any side effects that do happen often only last a day or two. Many people won’t experience any side effects.
On rare instances, some people may have a serious allergic reaction to the vaccination. If you’ve had an allergic reaction to any vaccine or medication before, speak with your doctor.
Treatment options for the flu
Most instances of the flu are mild enough that you can treat yourself at home without prescription medications.
It’s important you stay home and avoid contact with other people when you first notice flu signs.
You should also:
- Drink plenty of fluids. This includes water, soup, and low-sugar flavored drinks.
- Treat signs such as headache and fever with OTC medications.
- Wash your hands to keep spreading the virus to other surfaces or to other people in your house.
- Cover your coughs and sneezes with tissues. Immediately dispose of those tissues.
If signs become worse, call your doctor. They may prescribe an antiviral medication. The sooner you take this medicine, the more effective it is. You should begin treatment within 48 hours from when your symptoms start.
Meet with your doctor as soon as signs and symptoms appear if you’re at high risk for flu-related complications. These high-risk groups include:
- people with weakened immune systems
- women who are pregnant
- people over age 65
- children under age 5
Your doctor may test for the flu virus straight away. They may also prescribe an antiviral medication to prevent complications.