It’s that time of year again. Kids go back to school, adults go back to work after summer vacation, one person you know starts coughing and sneezing and before you know it you’re in bed with a fever, congestion, and aches all over. But how do you tell if you’ve caught the common cold or the flu. Here’s what you need to know about both.
How They’re Alike:
Rhinovirus, also known as the common cold, and Influenza, nicknamed “the flu,” are both respiratory illnesses. Both are caused by a virus, however there are over 200 known strains of the common cold and only a handful of known flu strains. Common symptoms of both illnesses are fever, congestion, runny nose, fatigue and muscle aches. The severity of each symptom depends on a variety of factors, such of what strain of virus you have, the time of year and your current health. And the big similarity these two share is the biggest downer: there is no known cure or drug to kill either one.
How They’re Different:
The flu is typically more severe than a cold, but there are such things as a severe cold or a mild flu. Typically, a runny nose, sore or scratchy throat and watery eyes are tall tell signs of a cold. Fevers in colds also don’t tend to exceed 102 degrees. The flu also has distinctive symptoms. Nausea, body aches or chills, sweating, loss of appetite and a fever greater than 102 degrees are more often seen in flu cases. Colds also tend to develop gradually, with one symptom transitioning to the next. Cold symptoms, such as mucus-y coughing, can last weeks. Symptoms of the flu often come on fast and all at once. The flu also doesn’t last as long. Most symptoms are gone within a week. It’s never too late to get a flu shot. This year’s vaccines are about 80% effective at preventing the flu. But common colds are a part of life, and there is no reliable way to prevent them.
How They’re Treated:
As I mentioned earlier, there is no drug or treatment that can cure either virus. There are drugs to alleviate flu symptoms, such as Tami-Flu, but the only way to fight the virus is the down and dirty way: with your white blood cells. There are a lot of things you can do to help your body in the fight though. If you feel yourself getting sick, immediately taking zinc tablets has been shown to cut the duration and severity of the virus. Make sure you are constantly hydrating. Your body goes through a lot of water fighting the virus. Constantly sipping on water is one of the best things you can do for your body. Taking Vitamin C, either by a supplement or a fruit smoothie or otherwise, can give your immune system a little boost. Take a hot shower or bath to alleviate muscle aches. Take over the counter meds such as cough syrup and decongestants as you need them, but avoid drowsy medication during the day. Avoid exercise, smoking, drinking, dairy products, and unneeded stress. And the number one thing you can do is rest. If you have a fever over 102 degrees for more than 3 days, unrelenting chills, or you are too nauseous to keep down food, you should make an appointment with your doctor right away. If your fever exceeds 104 degrees, you should visit an emergency room.