However, these two viral respiratory illnesses have some key differences. Knowing the distinctions can help you better determine which ailment you're dealing with so you can get the treatment you need — and ultimately feel better — sooner.
Cold Versus Flu Symptoms
Cold symptoms appear gradually and include sneezing, a runny nose, a sore throat, a mild to moderate cough and slight fatigue. Fever, aches, chills and headaches are much less common with a cold.
In comparison, flu symptoms arrive quickly and consist of fever (often 101 degrees Farenheit or higher), body aches, chills, coughing, congestion and fatigue. The flu is sometimes accompanied by headache and a sore throat.
Influenza is a more serious viral infection than the common cold and can lead to complications. The most common complication of influenza is a viral or bacterial pneumonia or lung infection. This can sometimes lead to hospitalization or even more serious outcomes. If you suspect you or your child has influenza, contact your doctor.
How Are the Cold and Flu Transmitted?
Both the cold and the flu are caused by viruses. The common cold is derived from multiple viruses, but the most prevalent virus is rhinovirus. The flu, however, is contracted from different types/strains of the influenza virus.
Viruses spread through the air, personal contact and bodily discharge, like saliva or respiratory fluids from coughing or sneezing. Both colds and flu are transmitted the same way. By taking the following measures, you can better arm yourself against both illnesses:
Another common and effective way to prevent the flu is to get vaccinated. About two weeks after the injection, influenza antibodies develop in the body and may prevent the development of the flu or reduce the severity of its symptoms. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention recommends the flu shot for anyone over the age of 6 months.
How Can You Treat the Cold and Flu?
Unfortunately, there is no magic cure to make the cold or flu disappear, but there are approaches that you can take to weaken the illnesses and speed up your recovery.
Consult a doctor. If you experience flu-like symptoms, visit your doctor or an urgent care clinic. An anti-viral medication can weaken the severity and duration of the illness, but it is most helpful if administered within the first 48 hours of flu symptoms.
Do not take an antibiotic. Since the cold and flu are not bacterial diseases, they cannot be treated with an antibiotic. Also, taking an antibiotic when it's not necessary can make you more prone to some illnesses.
Take over the counter fever reducers: Use acetaminophen or ibuprofen to treat many of the common symptoms. These medications can reduce fever, sore throat, and body aches, chills and headaches that are common with the flu.
Hydrate, hydrate, hydrate. Both a cold and the flu can cause dehydration and drinking enough fluids is vital for recovery. High sugar beverages, like sports drinks or sodas, don't contain the necessary electrolytes to facilitate optimal hydration. Instead, drink water, hot or iced tea, coconut water or a rehydration solution like Pedialyte®, which has a small amount of glucose and key electrolytes such as sodium, chloride and potassium.
Get proper nutrition. Having a decreased appetite is common with the flu but getting key nutrients can help you keep your energy levels up and help you recover. You may not feel like eating fruits and vegetables when you're sick, so try to get them in other forms like soups or smoothies.
As you bounce back and your appetite returns, if you need additional nutritional support, a product like Ensure® Original help, as it comes loaded with 27 vitamins and minerals and 9 grams of protein per bottle.
Take time for rest. Staying at home and resting can stop you from further spreading the illness and allow your body the time it needs to heal. Keep in mind, you are most contagious in the first 24 hours of developing the cold or flu. Influenza is highly contagious, and you should stay home from work or school until you are fever free for 24 hours.
This year, by knowing the difference between cold and flu symptoms and how they're transmitted, you can be prepared to treat symptoms and know when to seek medical help.
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What to Eat When You Feel Sick
On average about 8% of the U.S. population gets sick from flu each season, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. For many of them, eating is the last thing they’ll feel like doing. It’s common to feel this way, and your symptoms can drive down your appetite. Congestion can also accompany the flu and this can limit your sense of smell, which is linked to your taste buds, so a decrease in appetite may also be caused by your inability to taste foods. It’s okay to eat a little less when you’re fighting the flu, but you'll still need small amounts of the right foods and drinks to make sure you’re fueling your body with the energy and nutrients you need to recover and regain your strength. So even if you don’t want to eat, it’s important that you at least try to eat some of these immune-supporting foods.
Preparing for Virus Season
It is the season for viruses like Influenza and RSV, and COVID-19 cases continue to rise in the United States. According to the Centers for Disease Control the Delta variant causes more COVID-19 infections and spreads faster than earlier forms of the virus. Additionally, other respiratory viruses like Respiratory Syncytial Virus (RSV) are also causing illness in children and adults. And flu season will be right around the corner. While influenza viruses circulate year-round, most of the flu activity comes in December through February according to the CDC.