Is it a cold ? Or just a common cold?

Stuffy nose, itchy throat and pounding headache. Most times, these symptoms are associated with common colds and are assumed to eventually disappear with some intake of medication! Some folks believe the natural remedy of taking in warm water with some amount of honey or the favourite “chicken soup recipe” would do the trick of bringing relief!

However, how sure can one be to know that the symptoms are that of a flu or a common cold? Though these diseases appear to have similar symptoms, the flu tends to be more severe with potential life threatening complications compared to the common cold. As such, it is essential for one to know the difference..

What is a common cold ?

Common cold is an acute viral infection in the throat and nasal passages. It is caused by a range a viruses with rhino virus being the lead. Categories of persons susceptible to this disease are children (usually below the age of 6), persons with chronic illnesses and cigarette smokers. Symptoms of colds develop gradually. They last from five to seven (5-7) days and sometimes up to ten (10) days! The body naturally tends to heal itself from this disease with no medication however, pain killers and decongestants do help in providing relief.

What is a flu?

Influenza, also called the flu is a common but serious viral infection of the lungs and airways. There are three (3) types of flu namely influenza A, B and C . Types A and B are those known to cause seasonal epidemics while C causes mild respiratory infection. It symptoms are abrupt and intense, making patients unable to perform daily functions for a week or longer. The flu is more likely to develop complications such as pneumonia which may lead to patients being hospitalized. High risk individuals such as the elderly, very young people and individuals with weak immune systems may find the flu to be especially dangerous to their health.

Differentiating symptoms of cold from flu include the following; 

1. Cough

Coughs from colds are characterized by the production of phlegm but flu usually produce dry coughs with no mucus .

2. Fatigue, sneezing and sore throat 

Contagious cold symptoms begin slowly. The first cold symptoms are fatigue, sneezing and sore throat . During the first day or two , these symptoms manifest. At this point, it is important to rest as much as possible to minimize the fatigue. With flu , fatigue can lasts up to two to three (2-3) weeks, periodically resulting in extreme exhaustion. Sore throat is usually not common in flu.

3. Nasal Symptoms 

It is common to experience runny nose and congestion during the third and fourth days of a cold. The runny nose may be accompanied with discharge that becomes thicker, yellow or green during the progression of the cold. 

Unlike the cold, the flu is sometimes present with nasal congestion. 

4. Muscle aches 

It is much more common to experience severe muscle aches with the flu as compared to the cold.

5. Headache

Headaches are caused as a result of too much fluid or sticky mucus in the nose, which causes pressure in the sinuses. Headache is more common with flu than with cold .

Treatment management 

• Prescriptions like Tamiflu, an antiviral medication may reduce the length of the illness. This is usually prescribed after the doctor has diagnosed that it is flu. 

• A very important step to take, which most people ignore is to allow the body to rest as much as possible. Resting gives the body a chance to fight off the infection and to boost the immune system.

• Eating well and staying hydrated is important to deal with the cold or flu. Drinking lots of warm water and liquids may aid in rehydrating the body and alleviate the congestion, sore throat and coughing.

• Using a humidifier may make it easier to breathe. 

• Fevers can be treated with acetaminophen or ibuprofen.

• Cough drops may soothe a dry or sore throat and help lessen the cough.

• Warm baths and cold showers could offer some comfort when experiencing chills or fever. 

• Because the flu makes individuals more susceptible to other illnesses such as pneumonia, bronchitis and sinusitis, it is best to seek professional help as soon as the symptoms start showing.

How to protect and prevent the spread of flu and colds. 

• Both illnesses are spread through contact with an infected person or their respiratory droplets, which are produced by coughing or sneezing. These droplets are sprayed into the air and inhaled or get onto surfaces such as doorknobs, which can then get on the hands on an individual. The virus manages to enter the body, as a result of one touching the mouth or eyes. 

Practicing good hygiene such as frequent hand washing before eating, can help prevent colds or flu. In cases where soap and water are not available, a hand sanitizer can be a good replacement.

• It is also important to make sure that the mouth and nose are covered when coughing and sneezing to prevent the spread of the diseases.

• The flu can also be prevented with a safe and effective vaccine . It also prevents the spread of flu to others, including vulnerable people who are more likely to be hospitalized or die from the flu. (Young children, elderly, cancer patients or people who aren’t vaccinated). However, it is still possible to get the flu even after taking the flu shot since it is not a perfect vaccine. 

There is no need to panic if any of these symptoms are being experienced. These illnesses are also easily preventable. It is important to practise proper personal hygiene and eat good food to boost the immune system. Simply get treatment as soon as possible if any of these symptoms are experienced. 

Next time you think you have a cold check again it could be a flu!

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