It’s official. We’re slogging our way through the worst flu season we’ve had in the United States for years.
In fact, according to the CDC unless you live in Hawaii or the District of Columbia the flu has already triggered widespread misery in your state.
But the flu isn’t the only winter weather virus making the rounds. Various versions of the common cold are laying bunches of folks low too.
Whether it’s cold or flu you feel miserable
And often, colds and influenza seem to two things in common…
- They make you feel miserable
- It can sometimes be hard to figure out which one you have
If you or a loved one are nursing an ugly bug of your own, you might have turned to online searching to figure out if it’s a cold or flu you’re facing. Unfortunately, that can leave you feeling more baffled then before you began.
But throwing up your hands and deciding it doesn’t matter anyway could be a mistake. Because while the common cold and flu can share some symptoms, in some cases the flu can become severe enough to land you in the hospital.
And the flu can become particularly dangerous if you’re a senior, or have a chronic illness such as heart disease or diabetes.
So let’s finally clear up the confusion once, and for all.
When you pay close attention to your symptoms, you can usually figure out if you’re fighting off a cold or flu bug.
Cold or flu? Know your common cold symptoms
Let’s start with symptoms of the common cold:
- Cold symptoms typically build over a few days, and are generally mild.
- Most of your symptoms will strike “above the neck” and often include a stuffy nose, sniffling, sneezing and perhaps coughing and a sore throat.
- A mild fever, mild body aches, a mild headache and mild tiredness can occur with a cold, but are far less typical than with the flu.
- Colds usually resolve with a week to 10 days and don’t usually lead to complications or more serious illnesses or symptoms.
- If your symptoms hang on well beyond 10 days, you might have a bacterial infection and you should give your doctor a call.
Cold or flu? Know your typical flu symptoms
Now let’s look at some of the typical symptoms for the flu, or influenza:
- Flu symptoms usually appear fast and hit hard within less than a day.
- Typical flu symptoms are a high fever for several days, chills, a dry cough, headache, severe body aches and severe fatigue which can last for over a week.
- A stuffy or runny nose can occur with the flu, but are far less common than with a cold.
- Vomiting and diarrhea can also occur with the influenza, but they’re more common in children. (Folks often confuse influenza, or what is commonly referred to as “the flu” with gastroenteritis, or “stomach flu” a different illness.)
- Symptoms are relatively severe and can sometimes lead to complications or more severe illnesses such as pneumonia.
Try the “Cold or Flu Symptom” chart
This handy Cold and Flu Symptom Chart can help you quickly pinpoint which illness you have.
|Onset||Gradually develops over a day or 2.||Hits suddenly over 3 to 6 hours.|
|Chills||Unusual with a cold.||Common with flu.|
|Body aches||Mild, not common.||Severe, common.|
|Fever||Uncommon.||100 or higher for 3+ days typical.|
|Chest ache||Usually mild.||Often severe.|
|Cough||Productive, mucous producing.||Dry, non-productive.|
|Stuffy nose||Common, often resolves 7 – 10 days.||Uncommon with the flu.|
|Sore throat||Common.||Less common.|
|Fatigue||Mild tiredness.||Moderate to severe fatigue.|
|Vomiting||Very uncommon.||Can occur – more common in kids.|
|Diarrhea||Very uncommon.||Can occur – more common in kids.|
Cold or flu “Do’s and Don’ts”
You’ve figured out which illness has knocked you down for the count. But now what?
First things first, DON’T take an antibiotic. Because no matter whether you’re nursing a cold or flu, you have a virus. And viruses don’t respond to antibiotics.
But they can do some serious damage to your gut flora balance leaving you more vulnerable to all kinds of other health complications.
Unless your illness has morphed into something more serious, such as a bacterial infection like pneumonia (highly unlikely with a cold and relatively rare with the flu), don’t bother with an antibiotic.
(To discover more about antibiotic resistance, and why taking these powerful drugs when they aren’t needed can be dangerous, click here.)
Certain supplements, however, may be able to help turn the tide against that bug a bit faster. Three to consider…
1. Vitamin C:
Try taking 250-500 mg of vitamin C at the start of the illness and daily until your cold resolves
The cells in your body, including your immune cells, require zinc to do their job. Experts say taking zinc (as instructed by the manufacturer) over the first 48 hours or so of a cold, could help your body fight off the virus naturally. And studies show it may shorten the length and severity of your cold.
While you’re actively suffering with symptoms, occasionally using a saline nasal spray could help flush some of the virus out of your system.
With either cold or flu, make sure you’re drinking plenty of liquids. And give chicken soup a try, which researchers have found has some cold-fighting powers of its own. (Yes, grandma was right all along.)
Common sense tips to dodge cold or flu
Have you managed to avoid the nasty flu that’s sweeping the nation? Or dodged that cold that everyone’s been passing around at work or church?
Great, let’s keep it that way. Often you can dodge a cold or the flu in the first place by taking a few simple precautions.
For either illness:
- Stay away from anyone with symptoms.
- Frequently wash your hands in warm soapy water.
- Keep your hands away from your nose, eyes and mouth.
- Don’t share cups or utensils.
Consider arming your immune system with some supportive supplements including vitamin D3, vitamin C and a quality probiotic. These building blocks can help your body build a powerful defense against any invading viruses. And check out these 6 tips for staying healthy all winter long.