As the influenza epidemic sweeps through the country, you may be wondering if it’s the flu or a cold causing your sniffles.
One major difference between the two is that there is a vaccine for the flu, a disease that can have life-threatening complications.
Unfortunately, there’s no vaccine for the common cold, but you can figure out whether you’ve been infected by the human rhinovirus (the cold) or influenza.
Both are highly contagious and have similar symptoms and seasons.
If you haven't been vaccinated and feel sick, or if you have been vaccinated—the flu shot isn’t always 100 percent effective—and you feel sick, the Palo Alto Medical Foundation has listed differences on its website that may help you tell if you have a cold or the flu. We've listed them below.
The common cold is usually a mild illness with symptoms that include:
- Nasal congestion with runny nose and sneezing
- Sore or scratchy throat
The flu is typically more severe with harsh symptoms that include:
- Fever, often above 102 degrees Fahrenheit
The flu may result in secondary infections like pneumonia, or may worsen existing medical problems like heart failure, asthma, or diabetes.
You can get the flu the same way you get the cold—the virus lands on surfaces like counters, elevators buttons, stair rails or telephones. People get the virus on their hands and can then infect themselves when they touch their eyes, nose or mouth.
The best advice is to get plenty of rest, drink lots of liquid and avoid using alcohol and tobacco.
Adults can take over-the-counter medicines to relieve symptoms such as fever, muscle aches, nasal congestion and cough.
CAUTION: Do not give aspirin to children or teenagers who have flu-like symptoms, especially a fever. In some cases, this has caused a rare, but serious, complication known as Reye’s syndrome.
Kaiser Permanente has some tips for helping a child feel better if they are suffering from symptoms such as fevers, coughs and sniffles.
If you develop complications including trouble breathing, a very high fever, a severe sore throat, a cough that produces a lot of green or yellow mucus, or you feel faint, call your doctor.
Anti-viral medications may be prescribed for cases of the flu. These medicines may shorten the time you feel ill. Some of these medications only work with certain types of influenza viruses. To be effective, these need to be taken no later than 24 to 48 hours after you first develop symptoms.