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Cold or Flu? Here’s 3 Ways To Tell the Difference

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Colds and influenza are both caused by viruses. You probably know that there are several different strains of flu. That is why flu shots do not always work. The flu vaccine may not protect you from the particular virus with which you come into contact.

Just as there are many types of viruses which cause influenza; there are many viruses which cause the common cold. There are actually over 200 different viruses which produce cold symptoms. That is a big part of the reason why a cure for the common cold has not been discovered. Most colds are caused by a type of virus called rhinoviruses.

What many people refer to as “the virus” is often influenza, “the flu”. Other ills which may be mistaken for a cold or influenza include diverse respiratory ills such as sinus infections, bronchitis or even allergies. These may be caused by bacterial, viral or fungal infections. Most respiratory infections are viral illnesses.

1. How Much Are You Coughing?

One of the biggest differences between colds and flu is the intensity of symptoms. If you have an upper respiratory infection such as a “virus” or a cold, the following questions may help you to determine whether you have a cold or the flu.

Did your symptoms come on gradually, or all of a sudden? Cold symptoms frequently come on slowly. A person with the flu may feel fine in the morning and be quite ill by the end of the day.

What are the qualities of your cough? While coughs are common with both the colds and flu, the cough that you experience if you have the flu may be very frequent. You may have frequent spells of nonstop coughing. You may or may not cough up phlegm.

2. Are You Tired?

How tired are you? If you feel like you are dragging, but still able to function, you may be suffering from a cold. On the other hand, if you are exhausted, and the thought of performing minimal daily routines is overwhelming or impossible, you may have influenza. Fatigue may persist for weeks following a bout with the flu.

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3. Do You Have Fevers, Aches and Pains?

Do you have a fever? Is it high or low? Fever is usually absent or minimal if a cold is present. High fevers and shaking chills often accompany the flu.

Do you have generalized aches and pains? People suffering from colds may experience minimal or no generalized body aches; while people who have the flu may have severe aches and pains.

Do you have a headache? You may get a headache if you have a cold due to sinus congestion. Otherwise, cold sufferers generally do not have headaches. Flu sufferers may experience severe headaches unrelated to stuffy sinuses.

Are you sneezing? Sneezing is more common with colds; however it may occur with influenza, as well.

Do you have a sore throat? Sore throats are most likely due to colds; however, if you have the flu and experience a great deal of coughing, your throat may be raw and sore.

You might be a bit tired if you have a cold. If you have “the flu,” all you may want to do is sleep. Fatigue can persist for weeks after a bout of influenza. 

Now that I know what I have, what should I do?

Keep hydrated. If you are unable to keep fluids down, or if you show signs of dehydration, get professional help. Children and the elderly become dehydrated very fast. Pay particular attention if they are ill. Employ measures which enhance immune health. Employ remedies to relieve symptoms. Wash your hands frequently. Stay home from work until you are well. Herbal remedies may be utilized to relieve symptoms, enhance comfort and shorten the time that you are sick. Rest is an important, often neglected, aspect of the journey to restore health.

Colds may last one to two weeks. Influenza symptoms may last up to a month.

If you have any questions, consult with a health care provider, especially if you think that you may have the flu. Pay particular attention if the ill person is a child, elderly or has other health issues, as the flu can be deadly.

Most people are able to recuperate from the flu and colds using simple home remedies. If you seek medical help for the flu, in its early stages, you may opt to use a prescription product which may reduce the duration and intensity of flu symptoms.

If you have a cold or flu, you have a responsibility to others to not spread your germs. Unfortunately, due to business policies and financial needs, often people try to “help” by showing up at work or school before they are fully healed. Avoid this common practice as much as possible. The flu is contagious for one week after symptoms first appear.

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