The cold reality of winter has set in and so have colds and flu. The common cold and influenza, “the flu”, are both caused by viruses and share many of the same symptoms. So how can you tell the difference? We’ve got your guide to symptoms, when to seek medical care, and a list of home remedies to help.
The Common Cold
Unlike the flu, which is caused by a few viruses, more than 200 viruses can cause the common cold. Symptoms are usually all above the neck and are best treated with rest, over-the-counter cold medicines, and home remedies to lessen the symptoms.
Symptoms of the C0mmon Cold include:
- Slower Onset of Symptoms, peaking at Day 3-4
- Sore or Scratchy Throat
- Runny and/or Stuffy Nose
- Headache, Body Aches, Fatigue
- Coughing and/or Sneezing
- Fever is not typically present with the common cold. More severe symptoms plus a fever may mean you have the flu.
Cold symptoms are general mild and make one feel generally unwell. The common cold typically peaks after three or four days but can last as long as 10-14 days. Because it is caused a virus, it does not respond to antibiotics. In fact, taking an antibiotic for a cold can contribute to the growing problem of antibiotic resistance. Antibiotics treat only bacterial infections. Try home remedies that help alleviate symptoms and make a cold more tolerable.
For colds that worsen after the third or fourth day, cold with a fever, extreme fatigue, painful sore throat, and/or enlarged lymph nodes, seek medical care.
Influenza, or “the flu”, is also caused by a virus. But unlike the common cold, the flu can be prevented – or symptoms greatly reduced – with an annual flu vaccine. Of course, the effectiveness of the vaccine is dependent on several factors including how well the vaccine is matched with the actual flu going around, age and health of the person receiving the vaccine, and when the vaccine is given – the sooner in the flu season, the better. It takes up to two weeks after the flu vaccine is administered for full immunity to take effect.
Symptoms of the flu include:
- Sudden Onset of Symptoms
- Chills and/or Fever, usually 100 degrees F or higher
- Extreme Fatigue
- Severe Body Aches
- Dry Cough
- Sore Throat
Also unlike the common cold, influenza can be treated with antivirals. Most widely known by the brand name Tamiflu, influenza antivirals are now available in a generic form. Tamiflu, and its generic equivalent, works best when given within 48-72 hours of the onset of flu symptoms, and can shorten the flu by one to two days. The flu typically lasts five to seven days.
Home Remedies that Help
Regardless if you have the flu or a common cold, these home remedies reduce the severity of cold symptoms and can help make you feel better faster.
- Use a steamy shower, saline rinse or neti pot to clear a stuffy head.
- Increase intake of non-caffeinated liquids, especially water.
- Gargle with warm salt water as needed to ease sore throat. Use 1 teaspoon of table salt dissolved in 8 ounces of warm water. Gargle for a few seconds, spit, and repeat with remaining salt water.
- Increase sleep. Aim for at least 7-8 hours of sleep each night.
- Eat chicken soup and drink warm liquids.
- Refrain from smoking and stay away from those that do.
Michigan Urgent Care and Occupational Health and its clinics throughout Southeast Michigan are open every day, even on holidays. Our experienced providers and in-house testing lab can provide rapid testing for influenza, strep throat, mono, urinary track infections, and more. Stop in today – no appointment is needed.