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You can feel it coming on.
You are tired. Your body hurts and there is a small tickle in your throat.
You are sick.
But what are you sick with? Is it a cold or the flu and how can you tell?
I spoke with a physician colleague of mine and here is what he told me.
So what’s the difference between cold and flu? The two words go together like salt and pepper or like New Year’s and weight loss. Most people have a general idea that they are different, but when pressed have a hard time really saying what the difference is.
A cold is something very common that you usually get on average 3 (sometimes more) times during a year. It is a virus that is focused in the nose. The 3 main symptoms of a cold are sneezing, nasal stuffiness, and runny nose. Think of a cold as focused in the nose and head.
You may have other symptoms like a fever of 100° to 101°,or maybe you may have some tickling or scratchiness in the back of the throat. Actually, a little scratch in the back of the throat is usually the first symptom of a cold. Then after a couple days the nasal discharge tends to turn a little bit darker,more green. A cold may last for about a week and then you start to feel all better.
The only thing to treat a cold is rest, fluids and time. Over the counter medications may help with symptom relief, but won’t make it go away.
With the flu you’re sick all over. It’s a whole body disease. And it’s a much more serious illness.
The flu in the United States today kills about 36,000 people a year. This number mostly refers to people who are already weak for some reason or another – but the flu is also known as a young, healthy person’s killer.
The flu usually slams into you with a fever. Typically the fever is 102° all the way up to a 106°. A high fever is often the first symptom and why you feel sick all over. You have muscle aches, you’re tired, you feel out of it, and just feel crummy.
After a couple of days, the respiratory symptoms start to come on and depending where the flu virus settles – nose or chest – you might have some sneezing and some coughing too. The classic symptom is a dry, hacking kind of cough which might also cause some wheezing.
If you have the flu, you will usually be sick and feel bad for about 7 days or so. Then, just when you start to feel better, you may have another peak of fatigue and a second peak of fever. But usually after about a week you’ll start feeling better with most cases of the flu. The flu can make chronic medical conditions worse and put normally heathly people in the hospital with dehydration or other complications.
Just like a cold, the flu is a virus and the only treatment for it is rest, fluids and time. Antibiotics will not make you feel better unless you develop some kind of bacterial infection on top of the flu, but this can only be determined by your doctor. There are anti-viral medications out there to help a person fight off the flu, but they must be given within the first two or three days of symptoms. If you suspect you have the flu, call your doctor.
In summary, a cold and the flu are very similar. They are both viruses that will make you feel bad but a cold is usually focused more in the head/nose, whereas the flu is a whole body illness. With a cold, you will begin to feel better in a couple of days but with the flu it could be a week or two before you start to feel better. The best treatment for both a cold and the flu is rest, fluids and time. Antibiotics will not help.
A cold and the flu can effect anyone and everyone. If you are sick and feel like you are just not getting better, it is best to go see a doctor.
More from Jen in our Ask the Expert series:
Around these parts, Jen is our go-to SITStahs with the answers to your health questions. To ask a question of your own, be sure to visit her in The SITS Girls discussion forum here.
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