Determine which you have, how to treat it and the best ways to keep your family healthier this cold and flu season.
The terms “cold” and “flu” get thrown around a lot as fall transitions into winter. If you’ve ever pondered the difference between the two or simply need a refresh on how to protect your family, this one’s for you.
Both the common cold and influenza, aka the flu, affect your respiratory system. A cold tends to come on gradually, while the flu often hits you like a semi truck. Cold symptoms nearly always include sneezing, a runny nose and/or a cough, and unfortunately, those can all be influenza symptoms, too*.
Fever, chills or aches help narrow things down: Those symptoms point toward flu. Though keep in mind that not all flus come with a fever*.
The most important difference is that the flu can turn serious, and even life threatening, especially for children 5 and under, adults older than 65 and those with asthma, heart disease and other health conditions**.
To find out for sure if it’s the flu, get a flu test ASAP. The rapid influenza diagnostic test takes just 30 minutes or less, but can give false negatives. The most reliable test involves a nose or throat swab, sent to a lab for testing***.
Both colds and influenza are viruses, so they can’t be treated with antibiotics****. Though if it’s the flu, doctors can prescribe an antiviral drug that may shorten symptoms by a day or two, as well as prevent serious complications in high-risk patients. Another reason to move quickly: Benefits are greatest when antivirals are started within two days of the flu’s onset*****.
Try over-the-counter products, as recommended by your doctor, to relieve cold symptoms such as running nose, coughing and a sore throat. Get plenty of fluids and rest while you recover.
Cold and flu viruses spread from person to person through the air and close personal contact, as well as by touching an infected surface, then touching your nose or mouth. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention recommends getting the year’s flu vaccine, as well as covering coughs and frequent hand washing to prevent the spread of either virus******.