Your muscles are aching, your throat is sore, and you just want to lay in bed. However, you’re not sure if you should take the day off work and go to the doctor for the flu, or if you should tough it out because it’s only a cold. The symptoms of the flu and a nasty cold are often very similar, yet the flu is much more dangerous, and should be treated by your direct primary care physician.
Let’s look at the difference of symptoms, plus a few tips on what you can do to feel better fast!
Flu or Cold Symptom Comparison
When someone gets the flu, they often compare it to getting hit by a truck. Flu symptoms, especially fever, chills, fatigue and body aches, often hit suddenly and out of nowhere, followed by congestion, cough, and sore throat. Fevers are often over 101 degrees and body aches are severe, and the accompanying cough is often dry and painful. If you get the flu, symptoms often last over seven days and may last up to three weeks if left untreated.
A cold presents a bit differently. Symptoms tend to come on gradually, usually starting with a mild sore throat and a stuffy nose. While body aches and fever aren’t uncommon with a cold, they’re usually mild, and the cold symptoms often last less than a week (though a mild cough may linger).
One thing to consider is the source of your symptoms. If someone at work, school, or home has had similar symptoms, they’re probably the source of your illness, and you most likely have what they had.
Treating the Flu
With the flu, it’s important to seek immediate care with your direct primary care physician to receive medicine and prevent worsening of symptoms. The flu is very dangerous, especially in vulnerable populations including the elderly, children, pregnant women, and immunocompromised individuals. If left untreated, the flu may lead to severe complications including:
- Worsening of chronic conditions (such as asthma)
- Inflammation of heart or brain
Oral antivirals, especially oseltamivir (commonly known as Tamiflu), are highly effective at reducing or even stopping the flu and its symptoms. However, it has to be taken within 24-48 hours of the first sign of symptoms and continued for five days. My general rule is if you think to yourself, “I think I’m getting the flu,” then you don’t go to bed that night without starting oseltamivir.
At home, over the counter pain relievers such as ibuprofen or Tylenol can help bring down fevers and ease body aches, and it’s important drink plenty of clear fluids like ginger ale, water, or Sprite to prevent dehydration. Also, now isn’t the time to push yourself into going to work or school – your body needs rest.
Treating A Cold
While you may feel pretty awful, a cold is pretty harmless for most of us. Of course, plenty of fluids and rest will help, along with over the counter remedies such as a decongestant. A humidifier at night may help with symptoms and help you sleep a bit better, too. However, if you have a chronic health condition or notice a change in symptoms, seek medical attention.
When it comes to staying home from work or school, it’s important to go at your comfort level. It won’t hurt to take a day off and rest up, and your coworkers may appreciate you not getting everyone sick.
Preventing Colds and Flu
If you’ve avoided getting sick, it’s important to keep up the good health! Take these precautions to keep you and your family feeling healthy all through cold and flu season:
- Make sure everyone in your family receives a flu shot
- Wash your hands regularly or use antibacterial hand sanitizer
- Avoid shaking hands or hugging people, especially those who may be sick
- Sanitize frequently used items at home and work (work phones and keyboards, light switches, doorknobs)
- Practice healthy habits – exercising, getting good nutrition, not smoking – these all support a strong immune system.
Not sure if you have a cold or the flu or if you need medical attention? Our patients can reach out to us 24/7 with questions and concerns by phone, email, or text. Plus, we offer same-day appointments to help you feel better fast!