Are you SURE you have the flu? Or is it just a common cold? Two doctors explain how to spot the difference
- The common cold and the flu both share symptoms of a sore throat, coughing, congestion and sneezing
- However if your symptoms come on fast and hard, it means you have the flu
- Doctors warn that infants and adults should see a doctor within 24 hours if they have a high-fever, chills and body aches
- If you begin experiencing dizziness and chest pain it could be a sign the flu has turned into something more serious, doctors told DailyMail.com
The common cold and flu share multiple symptoms that can make it nearly impossible to identify which one you’re suffering from until it is too late.
Sneezing, coughing and congestion can be either illness, but having a fever and body aches come on fast and strong are tell-tale signs that you have the flu.
While one can cause a few days of discomfort, the other can lead to potentially fatal complications.
Speaking to DailyMail.com, two internists broke down each viruses’ unique symptoms and when to know it’s time for medical help because ‘if you miss it, it can kill you.’
Fever, chills and body aches are red flags that you have the flu and not just the common cold, according to medical professionals
Shared symptoms of both the flu and a cold are sneezing, congestion, a cough and sore throat.
‘Oftentimes in their earliest stages it can be difficult to differentiate between these conditions,’ said Dr Brian Secemsky, an internist at One Medical in San Francisco.
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SPOT YOUR SYMPTOMS
1. DO YOU HAVE A FEVER?
Symptoms unique to the flu include a high-grade fever, chills, body aches and nausea.
Cold symptoms usually stay in the nose, throat, ears and chest area.
Florida-based internist Dr Gail Van Diepen said that a fever is typically the biggest red flag that you have the flu.
2. DID YOU FALL ILL QUICKLY?
The quick onset of symptoms can also help distinguish between the two.
Most people with a common cold experience cold-like symptoms for a few days before reaching the peak of the illness.
Influenza comes on hard and fast.
‘It can be as instantaneous as one minute you’re fine and the next minute you have a headache and you begin to have cold sweats,’ according to Dr Van Diepen.
3. DIZZINESS, CHEST PAIN, SHORTNESS OF BREATH
Dr Secemsky urges people to see a doctor if you begin to experience dizziness, shortness of breath or chest pain as it is a sign that flu symptoms may have developed into pneumonia or infection.
‘Mothers should take babies to see a doctor within 24 hours if they have a high fever,’ said Dr Van Diepen.
4. CAN’T STOP SNEEZING AND COUGHING? DON’T WORRY TOO MUCH
Usually these are signs of a common cold.
It’s when that translates into breathing problems that you may have to be concerned.
HOW TO LOOK AFTER YOURSELF
1. GET THE FLU SHOT
The CDC urges everyone to get their flu shot to best protect themselves from the virus and say it is not too late.
Even if you get the flu, the fact of having the flu shot in your system will give your body a better shot at fighting it.
‘Getting the flu shot can help prevent the flu and reduce the intensity of the illness if one comes down with it – highly recommended to anyone without a contraindication to receive it!’ said Dr Secemsky.
Doctors said that you should seek medical help within 24 hours if you have a fever and chills, especially for infants and elderly people
2. SLEEP AND HYDRATE
‘Supporting one’s immune system with good rest and adequate hydration may help reduce the severity of symptoms,’ said Dr Secemsky.
3. STAY CLEAN AND DON’T BE A MARTYR
If you think you have the flu, or you are diagnosed with the flu, do not go in to work, and stop doing household chores.
The common cold and the flu are both upper respiratory infections that are highly contagious and transmitted by coming into close contact with an infected person.
They can be passed through sneezes, coughs and touching surfaces that carry the bacteria.
No matter what pressure is on you to come into the office, it’s better for everyone if you don’t.
To minimize your risk of passing it on, Dr Secemsky says, ‘washing hands often [and] wearing masks … during periods of fever can help reduce the transmission of the virus.’
4. YOU CAN TRY OVER-THE-COUNTER MEDICINES – BUT ONLY IN THE EARLY STAGES
Over-the-counter medications can help ease the symptoms of both a cold and the flu and antiviral drugs are most effective if taken within 48 hours of the onset of symptoms.
After that, it’s time to seek professional help.
5. WHEN TO GO TO HOSPITAL
Take no chances if you are elderly, a smoker, or have a pre-existing condition.
Smokers are also more susceptible to developing pneumonia from the flu so it is vital for them to seek medical help at the onset of symptoms.
Elderly people and those with pre-existing medical conditions, such as diabetes and lung disease, should especially seek medical help because they are more prone to serious infection.
‘While the majority of patients who get flu symptoms do quite well taking care of themselves at home, one should consider seeing a primary care clinician if he/she is of advanced age and has serious chronic health conditions,’ Dr Secemsky said.
Whether you fit those categories or not, if you’re vomiting, your condition could deteriorate quickly.
‘Vomiting can lead to dehydration so that would also raise concern to see a doctor with a day,’ she said.
While hospitals across the US are overcrowded and understaffed, Dr Van Diepen said you should still get in line.
‘Don’t wait too long to see a doctor and if your doctor can’t see you go to a walk in clinic,’ she said. ‘Be proactive and don’t assume it’s just a cold and lay around for a few days because you could end up with pneumonia.’
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