Cold or Flu? 5 Ways to Help You Decide

With the current flu epidemic underway, a lot of people are wondering how to distinguish it from the garden-variety summer cold or seasonal allergies. Although both colds and influenza are caused by viruses, they generally have a different type of symptom onset.

One of the first signs that it may be flu instead of a cold is a fever, ranging anywhere from 100F to 104F (and in some cases, typically small children, as high as 106F). Colds are typically unaccompanied by fever, or at most a low-grade one (99F to 100F).

Flu is also nearly always accompanied by body aches and muscle pain. You may feel stiff, achy and generally restless and unable to get comfortable. A cold may have you feeling tired and rundown, but generally not feeling any specific body pain.

Flu sufferers often complain of violent headaches, accompanied by pain when they move their eyes.

Of course, cold, allergy, and sinus sufferes get their share of headaches, so this is an “additional clue”.

You just feel awful. If you’ve ever had the flu before, you won’t forget it anytime soon. Yes, a cold is unpleasant, and yes, cough and nasal discharge can seem to last an eternity. But the fact of the matter is, while catching a cold is miserable, coming down with the flu is like getting hit by a truck.

As far as allergies, unless you suffer from asthma, those symptoms typically don’t extend beyond nasal discharge and itching or burning eyes. Sometimes a sore throat can result from post nasal drip, but that can often be addressed by gargling with salt water or using sore throat lozenges.

So, now that you think it might be flu, what should you do?

For everyone else’s protection, try and isolate yourself as much as possible. Don’t go to work, or school. Don’t go to confined public areas such as restaurants, movie theaters, libraries, etc. Don’t use public transportation unless absolutely necessary. Cover your nose and mouth, keep hands away from face, and wash as frequently as possible, or use hand sanitizer so you don’t spread it to everyone else. See your doctor as soon as possible; some of the new flu treatments appear to work against the new strain, especially if administered early. Only a lab test can confirm that it is indeed the current flu strain, so in the mean time it is terribly important that you take every precaution to care for yourself, as well as not spreading it to others.

Drink plenty of fluids and get as much rest as you can. Keeping lights dim, and the television and laptop turned off, can go a long way toward relieving an aching head and eyes. Saline sprays and salt water gargles can ease nasal and throat symptoms; and Mom’s chicken soup may be just the ticket for an unsettled stomach. For more information, see the links below.

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