It hits you like a ton of bricks. You’re sick as a dog. But do you simply have an annoying cold that will do little more than slow you down? Or should you head straight to bed because you’ve got the flu?
The truth is, it can be hard to tell the difference between cold and flu, especially in the first eight hours or so of getting sick. And that’s a problem, because the sooner you know what you have the sooner you can start treating it for a faster recovery.
Here’s what you need to know to decode your illness so you can get better fast.
How to tell if you’re battling a cold
If your symptoms are mostly in your head and throat, it’s probably a cold. Especially if you’ve been feeling a bit run down for a few days.
Do these symptoms sound familiar?
- Runny nose
- Mild to moderate chest discomfort with cough
- Watery eyes
- Sore throat
Body aches and fatigue aren’t totally unheard of with a cold, but they won’t be debilitating or make you feel too miserable to move. Fevers are far less likely with a cold, but on the off chance you get one it’ll be low-grade, 100 degrees or lower.
Treating your cold
If the symptoms above had you nodding in agreement, it’s time to treat a cold. And the sooner the better.
Start with vitamin C and zinc as soon as you begin to notice some symptoms. Both will help support your immune system while you’re sick. And although the research isn’t conclusive, several studies have shown that zinc can help shorten the length of your cold. An analysis of 15 studies, published by the Cochrane Library, concluded that folks that take zinc at the first sign of a cold are more likely to get well faster. A saline spray or nasal rinse–before or after a steamy shower–can help with congestion too.
Be sure to stay hydrated. And if you do have a rare fever as long as it stays low-grade your best bet may be to let it run its course. A fever is your body’s way of fighting off an infection, and letting it do its job will typically help you get better faster.
How to tell if you’re battling the flu
Flu symptoms show up throughout your entire body, and they show up fast. With the flu you’re feeling perfectly fine one day and wiped out hours later, freight train fast.
Do these common flu symptoms sound familiar?
- High fever of 101 degrees or higher
- Aches, pains and sore muscles all over your body
- Fatigue up to and including total exhaustion
- Dry cough
The flu doesn’t typically come with as many sinus symptoms as a cold. But if you do happen to have a runny or stuffy nose, or find yourself sneezing, those symptoms tend to be much milder with a flu than with a cold.
Treating the flu
The two most important steps for treating the flu are to…
- Get lots of rest
- Stay well hydrated
A warm bath (but not too hot) can help soothe sore, achy muscles and could help lower your temperature too. If you’re not up to a bath, try a heating pad under your blankets to drive away the aches and chills.
If you have a bit of congestion a few drops of eucalyptus oil on a warm washcloth applied to your chest can help ease your symptoms. And try to take in some ginger in tea or pill form. Ginger has anti-inflammatory and antiviral properties, making it an effective flu treatment. Plus, ginger may help lower your fever and settle your stomach.
Figuring out whether you have a cold or the flu is the first step on the road to a faster recovery.