Your nose is stuffy, your throat is itchy, and your head is pounding. Is it a cold or a seasonal flu? Symptoms can overlap. So unless your doctor does a quick flu test — a quick check with a swab at the back of your nose or throat — it's hard to be sure.
Here are some basic guidelines for knowing the difference between cold and flu symptoms and what to do if you have one of these infections.
See how to tell the difference
Viruses cause colds and flu. Both are respiratory infections. The easiest way to tell the difference is to look at your symptoms.
When you have a cold, you are likely to experience the following symptoms:
- runny or stuffy nose
- sore throat
- To sneeze
- headache or body aches
- slight tiredness
Flu symptoms can include:
- dry cough, dry
- moderate to high fever, although not everyone who has the flu has a fever
- sore throat
- severe muscle or joint pain
- stuffy and runny nose
- severe fatigue that can last up to two weeks
- Nausea and vomiting and diarrhea (more common in children)
Colds come on gradually over a few days and are usually milder than the flu. They usually get better after 7 to 10 days, although symptoms can last up to 2 weeks.
Flu symptoms come on quickly and can be severe. They usually last 1 to 2 weeks.
Use your symptoms as a guide to figure out which condition you have. If you think you might have the flu, see your doctor to get tested within the first 48 hours after symptoms appear.
what is the common cold
The common cold is an upper respiratory tract infection caused by a virus. According to the American Lung Association, more than 200 different viruses can cause the common cold. However, according to the Mayo Clinic, the rhinovirus is what most commonly causes sneezing and a runny nose in people. It's highly contagious.
Although you can catch a cold at any time of the year, colds are more common during the winter months. This is because most cold viruses thrive in low humidity.
Colds are spread when someone who is sick sneezes or coughs, sending virus-filled droplets flying through the air.
You can get sick if you touch a surface (like a countertop or doorknob) that has been recently touched by an infected person and then touch your nose, mouth, or eyes. You are most contagious in the first two to four days after exposure to the common cold virus.
How do you treat a cold
Since the common cold is a viral infection, antibiotics are not effective in treating it.
However, over-the-counter medications such as antihistamines, decongestants, acetaminophen, and NSAIDs can relieve constipation, pain, and other cold symptoms. Drink plenty of fluids to avoid dehydration.
Some people take natural remedies like zinc, vitamin C, and orequin to prevent or relieve cold symptoms. The evidence on whether they work is mixed.
A 2015 study in BMC Family Practice found that high-dose zinc lozenges (80 milligrams) can shorten the duration of colds if taken within 24 hours of symptom onset.
Vitamin C doesn't seem to prevent colds, but if you take it consistently, it can alleviate your symptoms, according to a 2013 Cochrane review. Echinacea has not been shown to help prevent or treat the common cold. A 2017 BMJ study found that vitamin D helps protect against the common cold and flu.
Colds usually go away within 7 to 10 days. See a doctor if:
- Your cold hasn't gotten better for about a week.
- You get a high fever
- your fever won't go down
You may have allergies or a bacterial infection that requires antibiotics, such as B. a sinus infection or a sore throat. A bothersome cough can also be a sign of asthma or bronchitis.
How to prevent a cold
There's an old saying that goes, "We can put a man on the moon, but we still can't cure the common cold." While it's true that doctors haven't yet developed a vaccine, there are ways that are just as mild, but they avoid bothersome illnesses.
Because colds spread so easily, avoiding them is the best prevention. Keep away from all sick people. Do not share utensils or other personal items such as toothbrushes or towels. Sharing goes both ways - if you have a cold, stay home.
Practice good hygiene. Wash your hands frequently with hot water and soap to remove any germs you may have picked up during the day, or use an alcohol-based hand sanitizer.
Keep hands away from nose, eyes and mouth unless they have been recently washed. Cover your mouth and nose when coughing or sneezing. Always wash your hands afterwards.
What is seasonal flu?
The flu - or the flu as it's more commonly known - is another upper respiratory illness. Unlike the common cold, which can occur at any time of the year, the flu is usually seasonal. The flu season generally lasts from fall through spring, peaking in the winter months.
During flu season, you can catch the flu the same way you catch a cold: through contact with droplets spread by an infected person. You are contagious starting the day before you get sick and up to 5 to 7 days after you show symptoms.
Seasonal flu is caused by influenza A, B, and C viruses, with influenza A and B being the most common types. The active strains of the influenza virus vary from year to year. That's why a new flu vaccine is developed every year.
Unlike a common cold, the flu can progress to a more serious condition like pneumonia. This applies in particular to:
- small children
- older adults
- pregnant woman
- People with health conditions that weaken the immune system, such as asthma, heart disease, or diabetes
how to treat flu
In most cases, fluids and rest are the best ways to treat the flu. Drink plenty of fluids to avoid dehydration. Over-the-counter decongestants and pain relievers like asibuprofen and acetaminophen can manage your symptoms and help you feel better.
However, never give aspirin to children. It can increase your risk of a rare but serious condition called Reye's syndrome.
Your doctor may prescribe antiviral medications — oseltamivir (Tamiflu), zanamivir (Relenza), or peramivir (Rapivab) — to treat the flu.
These medications can shorten the duration of the flu and prevent complications such as pneumonia. However, they may not be effective if not started within 48 hours of becoming ill.
The best way to prevent the flu is to get a flu shot. Most doctors recommend getting vaccinated in October or as soon as flu season begins.
However, you can still get the vaccine in late fall or winter. The flu shot can help protect you against the flu and can help reduce illness if you get the flu.
To avoid catching the flu virus, wash your hands often with warm soapy water or use an alcohol-based hand sanitizer. Avoid touching your nose, eyes and mouth. Try to stay away from people with flu or flu-like symptoms.
It's important to adopt healthy habits to keep cold and flu germs at bay. You should always make sure you get plenty of sleep, eat plenty of fruits and vegetables, exercise, and manage stress during cold and flu season and beyond.
What is a sore throat?
A sore throat is a painful, dry, or scratchy sensation in the throat.
Sore throat is one of the most common symptoms. It is responsible for more than 13 million medical consultations each year (1Trusted source).
Most sore throats are caused by infection or environmental factors such as dry air. Although a sore throat can be uncomfortable, it usually goes away on its own.
Sore throats are classified into types based on the part of the throat they affect:
- Pharyngitis affects the area just behind the mouth.
- Tonsillitis is swelling and redness of the tonsils, the soft tissue at the back of the mouth.
- Laryngitis is swelling and redness of the larynx or larynx.
sore throat symptoms
Sore throat symptoms can vary depending on the cause. Sore throat can feel:
It may hurt more when you swallow or speak. Your throat or tonsils may also appear red.
Sometimes white spots or pus form on the tonsils. These white spots are more common with a sore throat than with a sore throat caused by a virus.
home remedies for sore throat
You can treat most sore throats at home. Get plenty of rest to give your immune system a chance to fight off the infection.
To relieve a sore throat:
- Gargle with a mixture of warm water and 1/2 to 1 teaspoon of salt.
- Drink warm liquids that soothe your throat, such as hot tea with honey, soup stock, or warm lemon water. Herbal teas are particularly soothing for sore throats.
- Cool your throat by eating a cold treat like a popsicle or ice cream.
- Suck on a candy or lozenge.
- Turn on a cool mist humidifier to add moisture to the air.
- Rest your voice until your throat is better.
How is a sore throat diagnosed?
During the exam, your doctor will ask about your symptoms and use a light to examine your throat for redness, swelling, and white spots. The doctor may also feel the sides of your neck to see if you have swollen glands.
If your doctor suspects you have a sore throat, you'll have a throat culture done to diagnose it. The doctor will place a swab in your throat and take a sample to test for strep bacteria. With a rapid strep test, your doctor gets results in minutes.
To confirm the diagnosis, the sample is sent to a laboratory for testing. A lab test takes a day or two, but it can show you have a sore throat.
Sometimes, you may need further tests to find the cause of your sore throat. You may want to see a specialist who treats disorders of the ear, nose, and throat, called an ear, nose, and throat doctor or otolaryngologist.
You can take medication to ease your sore throat or to treat the underlying cause.
Over-the-counter medications that relieve sore throats include:
- Paracetamol (Tylenol)
- Ibuprofen (Advil, Motrin)
Do not give aspirin to children and teenagers because it is associated with a rare but serious condition called Reye's syndrome.
You can also use one or more of these treatments that work directly for a sore throat:
- a sore throat spray that contains a numbing antiseptic like phenol or a cooling ingredient like menthol or eucalyptus
- Throat pellet
Buy throat lozenges.
Buy cough syrup.
Some herbs, including slippery elm, marshmallow root, and licorice root, are sold as sore throat remedies. There isn't a lot of evidence for this effect, but an herbal tea called Throat Coat, which contains all three, reduced sore throats in one study.
Compre Throat Coat Herbal Tea.
Medications that reduce stomach acid can help with a sore throat caused by GERD. These include:
- Antacids like Tums, Rolaids, Maalox and Mylanta to neutralize stomach acid.
- H2 blockers, such as cimetidine (Tagamet HB) and famotidine (Pepcid AC), to reduce stomach acid production.
- Proton pump inhibitors (PPIs) such as lansoprazole (Prevacid 24) and omeprazole (Prilosec, Zegerid OTC) to block acid production.