Take this common scenario, you go to bed having slight irritation in your throat, you know something is not right and you are â€ścoming down with somethingâ€ť. Next thing you know is you wake up in the morning with a fever, sneezing, coughing, muscle aches, sore throat and just wiped out. Is it the common cold or are the start of flu? Sometimes it can be difficult to differentiate between the two however there are some differences.
The common cold is usually due to viruses however there can be a superimposing bacterial infection as well such as a strep throat that may need antibiotics. Generally cold symptoms are milder compared to flu symptoms. Symptoms usually start with a sore throat and gets better after one or two days. However you may be left with congestion, runny nose, cough, slight fever for a few days. In general cold symptoms may last about a week and is most contagious first 3 days. However if symptoms last longer than a week without improvement a bacterial infection may be present needing antibiotics. As always make sure you keep hydrated especially if you have a fever and get rest during this time.
Flu symptoms are more severe than a cold, comes on quicker, lasts longer and can have more complications. Fever in flu may be higher, muscle aches more severe, cough more prominent, and headaches may also be present. Most flu does improve in three to five days however symptoms such as persistent fatigue may persist for a week or longer. With the flu you are also more likely to get pneumonia especially in the very young, elderly, those who are pregnant, have diabetes, lung problems (such as COPD or emphysema), or heart problems. The flu virus such as influenza is also very contagious so it is important to wash your hands especially after blowing your nose or sneezing.
Treatment of both cold and flu are similar with hydration, pain and fever reducers, and decongestants. However in certain cases especially during early onset of symptoms, antivirals may help reduce the intensity of symptoms.
It is important to see a doctor if you experience signs or symptoms of a cold and flu especially when it is not improving. At CityMD we offer rapid bedside tests that can check for bacterial or viral causes of cold and flu symptoms. We also have digital x-ray if there is concern for complication from cold and flu to look for pneumonia.