Colds and the flu are both common respiratory infections that can cause similar symptoms, but they are caused by different viruses and can have different severities and complications. It's important to understand the differences between the two so you can take the appropriate steps to manage your symptoms and reduce the risk of spreading the infection to others.
The common cold is a viral infection that affects the upper respiratory tract and is characterized by symptoms such as a runny nose, sneezing, cough, sore throat, and phlegm. It is usually not dangerous, but it can lead to complications such as sinusitis, pneumonia, ear infections, and asthma attacks in certain people. Cold symptoms fully develop within one to four days after contracting the virus and usually last about three days. Adults get colds - on average - two to three times a year; Children - even more. Most people recover from the disease within 7 to 10 days after infection. However, it must be remembered that a cough - if it was part of the cold - may last for some time after all other symptoms have passed, and this is due to local irritation of the pharynx. From tests done, it appears that about 20% of those who recover continue to cough for about two weeks after the onset of their illness. The common cold is highly contagious and can be spread through sneezing, coughing, and contact with contaminated objects.
The flu, on the other hand, is a systemic infection caused by the influenza virus and affects the whole body. It is characterized by high fever, muscle aches, headaches, cough, runny nose, weakness, and a general feeling of illness. The disease may also be accompanied by a sore throat, conjunctivitis, diarrhea, and abdominal pain. The flu can be more severe than a cold and can lead to complications such as pneumonia, bronchitis, and sinus infections. It is also highly contagious and can be spread through respiratory droplets and contaminated objects. The flu usually lasts for about a week, but the symptoms may persist for longer.
Treatment for the flu is similar to treatment for the common cold, and may include the following:
Getting plenty of rest: This can help your body focus on fighting the infection.
Drinking fluids: Staying hydrated can help thin mucus and relieve congestion.
Over-the-counter medications: Non-prescription decongestants, pain relievers, and fever reducers can help relieve flu symptoms.
Steam inhalation: Inhaling steam from a hot shower or a bowl of hot water can help clear congestion.
Saline nasal spray: This can help moisturize and clear the nasal passages.
Humidifier: Using a humidifier can add moisture to the air, which can help relieve congestion.
It's important to note that some over-the-counter cold and flu medications should not be given to children under a certain age. Always read and follow the directions on the label, and consult a healthcare provider if you have any questions or concerns.
In addition to these measures, antiviral medications can be used to treat the flu. These medications can help reduce the severity and duration of the flu, but they are most effective when taken within the first 48 hours of symptom onset. Antiviral medications are prescription drugs and are available only with a healthcare provider's prescription.
As with any other disease, the need to consult a primary care provider is derived from the severity of the disease. These are the indications that it is a cold that requires receiving medical assistance:
• High fever (more than 38 degrees) that lasts more than three days.
• Cough that gets worse, purulent sputum and chest pains.
• Shortness of breath.
• Acute earache.
• A combination of pain in the face and a purulent runny nose for more than a week.
• A combination of the following symptoms: high fever, severe headaches, difficulty looking at light, vomiting.
To reduce the risk of getting a cold or the flu, it's important to practice good hygiene such as washing your hands frequently, covering your mouth and nose when you cough or sneeze, and avoiding close contact with sick individuals. If you do get a cold or the flu, it's important to stay home to prevent spreading the infection to others and to rest and take care of yourself to allow your body to heal. If your symptoms are severe or you have underlying health conditions, it may be necessary to see a primary care provider for further treatment.