You feel miserable. You are exhausted, your throat hurts, and you’re achy and feverish. But is it a cold, or the flu? How do you know if you have one or the other? Archna Parmar, DO, a primary care physician with the Saint Peter’s Physician Associates network explains.
“The flu and the common cold are both respiratory illnesses, but they are caused by different viruses,” says Dr. Parmar, an internal medicine specialist. “Knowing the difference during flu season can help to cut the time you spend off your feet.”
The common cold is more likely to come on slowly and includes symptoms such as a runny nose and sneezing. Flu symptoms can be similar to cold symptoms– the sneezing, coughing, runny nose, even a low-grade fever – but they are typically more intense. A more severe case of the flu strikes with fever, muscle aches, chills, sore throat, cough, and fatigue. Unlike a cold, the flu can get worse and progress to serious illness.
The flu can last about one to two weeks, but it also can last up to a month. It will leave you feeling tired, and in some cases, exhausted. Bed rest and drinking lots of fluids like water are recommended. Because the flu is a viral infection, it cannot be treated with antibiotics.
Getting a vaccine is your best defense against contracting the bug during the flu season, which typically lasts throughout the winter months.
Who should get a flu shot?
The flu shot is recommended for everyone 6 months and older. The most serious complication associated with the flu is pneumonia – an infection of the lungs which is more likely to strike children, the elderly, and people with weakened immune systems or chronic illnesses.
If you are not sure whether you have the common cold or the flu, it’s best to check with your healthcare provider.
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