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Cold or Flu? Telling the Difference Can Make a Life or Death Difference



Now that the swelter of summer has passed and the air carries a wintry chill, we can safely assume that cold and flu season has arrived. No one enjoys coming down with an illness, as trying to find the time to take a few days off to recover can be extremely difficult with people having such busy schedules.

Missing school or work to recover from an illness could also stretch a budget already made tighter by the approaching holiday season. So whether you develop a cold or the flu, sick is still getting sick right?

Well not so fast. Trying to determine if an illness is a cold or flu can matter a great deal since individuals with the flu can suffer serious complications, including pneumonia or even death. While treating the flu within the first 48 hours of developing symptoms can help to shorten the duration and severity of an illness, you need to recognize the type of illness you have in order to treat it properly.

Signs of the Flu

One of the easiest ways to determine the type of illness you have is by measuring how quickly the symptoms hit. While a cold may develop slowly over the course of a few days (starting with a slight sore throat and then building to include cough, sneezing, and sniffling), the flu often hits almost immediately. If you go to bed feeling fine only to wake up with a fever, sore throat, headache, soreness, muscle aches, and congestion, you probably have the flu. Fortunately, these types of flu symptoms generally fade within a couple of days, while a cold can linger for one or two weeks.

Another sure-fire sign that points to flu over a cold is the presence of a fever. While some people with a cold may develop a slight fever, most do not. However, if you have the flu, you’re almost assured of running a fever somewhere in the 100 to 102-degree range, or higher.

When children develop the flu, they have a tendency to run an even higher temperature than adults. Children are also more likely to run a fever when they have a cold but at a lower temperature.

Symptoms of the Flu

When you develop the flu, you’re most likely to start off feeling very tried and ache all throughout the body. While the coughing, sore throat, and congestion associated with the flu will often fade after a few days, this feeling of fatigue can actually last up to three weeks following a bout with the virus. Seniors and individuals with weakened immune systems may even take longer to recover their energy.

Because colds and flu are both respiratory illnesses, they do share some common symptoms that can make it difficult to differentiate between the illnesses. Both types of illnesses will present a cough and headache, but you need to be careful when dealing with the flu that your cough doesn’t become worse.

Pneumonia is a serious, potentially life-threatening lung infection that can result as a complication of having the flu. If your cough remains persistent, you have a fever higher than 102 degrees, experience trouble breathing, shortness of breath, chest pain from coughing, or cough up bloody or yellow-green mucus, you need to contact a doctor.

Signs of a Cold

While every illness varies, developing a cold usually means experiencing several common symptoms. In most cases, a cold starts with a sore throat and a stuffy or runny nose. Even though these symptoms are common with the flu, a cold general begins with one symptom followed by another, while with the flu everything tends to hit you at once.

If your mucus turns green or yellow, it’s generally a sign of an infection related to a virus such as the flu. Even though you may need to constantly blow your nose, your mucus should remain clear if you have a cold.

No matter which illness you have, it’s important that you get plenty of bed rest in order to fully recover. When stricken with the flu, keep in mind that you’re contagious for the first 24 to 48 hours even if you don’t at first manifest any symptoms. Staying home from work or school will help ensure you can recover quickly, while not infecting your coworkers or classmates.