Cold vs Flu

The Difference Between a Cold and The Flu

Have you ever shown symptoms and wondered whether you have a cold or the flu? This is because having a cold and having the flu can display similar symptoms. Check out the chart below, find out which infection you have, and follow the day-by-day advice given below.
 USPM Cold vs Flu Infographic

Cold

Day 1

Hold off on calling the Doctor.
There is no prescription drug that your doctor can prescribe that will shorten the length of the common cold. A cold is a viral infection that cannot be treated by antibiotics, which fight bacterial infections. Furthermore, antiviral drugs are used to ease symptoms of the flu, so it cannot be used to calm a cold. However, you can take the following over-the-counter drugs to ease the pain of the common cold:

  • Acetaminophen (Tylenol)
  • Ibuprofen (Motrin, Advil)
  • Naproxen (Aleve)

Practice extra good hygiene

When we are sick, we often want to stay home. However, if you venture out into the public it is extremely important to take extra measures to not spread what you have. To help stop the spread of germs:

 

Do not:
  • Touch others
  • Cough/Sneeze into your hands (then touch another object)

Do:

  • Wash hands with soap and water regularly (Especially after sneezing and/or coughing)
  • Cover your mouth when you cough or sneeze
  • Cough or sneeze into a cloth (ig. tissue, your upper sleeve, elbow)
  • If you use a tissue, make sure to put in a trashcan
  • Consider taking vitamin C

Days 2-4
Avoid exhausting yourself
When it comes to exercise, moderate activity may help a little, but working out until you sweat may even prolong your symptoms according to Dr. Marvin M. Lipman, M.D.
Take preventive measures and prepare for what comes next
As shown in the chart above, a sore throat is likely the first symptom to roll around. Shortly after, symptoms such as congestion, sneezing, and runny nose start developing. If you are a fan of taking the non-drug route, here are a few suggestions of what you can do to ease these symptoms:
  • Honey or salt-water gargle to ease sore throat
  • Saline nasal spray to east congestion
  • Eat warm soup or drink warm beverages to thin mucus

 5+ Days
Consider calling your healthcare provider
If your symptoms do not improve or are worsening, think about reaching out to your healthcare provider. The common cold is a viral infection, but you could also be developing a bacterial infection, which would require antibiotics. You may have another issue, such as allergies (immune reaction to a foreign substance in the body, bronchitis (inflammation of the bronchial lining), or pneumonia (infection that inflames the air sacs in one or both lungs).

Flu

Day 1
Stay home
On the first day of having the flu you are highly contagious, so it is best to not spread germs. The flu usually lasts for 1-2 weeks but after a few days, symptoms may ease, and you can reconsider going out. Have someone bring in some flu-survival basics such as: 
  • Tissues 
  • Easy-to-eat foods 
  • Over-the-counter medications 
  • Chicken soup
Don’t push yourself too hard
As the flu settles in the body, it needs plenty of rest. Instead of pushing yourself too hard doing daily tasks, climb into bed and get the rest your body deserves. Doing too much, especially in the early stages of illness, can weaken your body.
Ask your doctor for an antiviral drug
These drugs can shorten the duration of the flu by a day and reduce the risk of pneumonia and other complications. However, it only works if you start taking it 48 hours after the onset of symptoms. Examples of antiviral drugs are Oseltamivir (Tamiflu) and Zanamivir (Relenza). Use caution with these drugs, especially if you are: 
  • 65 years or older 
  • Younger than 5 years old 
  • Pregnant or just had a baby 
  • Have a chronic disease such as asthma, heart disease, or other chronic diseases
  • Remember to consult with your physician before taking any medication

The flu often starts off with a temperature over 100° F. To ease head and body aches that come with the flu, you can take: 

  • Acetaminophen (Tylenol)
  • Ibuprofen (Motrin, Advil)
  • Naproxen (Aleve)

Days 2-4

Fluids, Fluids, Fluids!
Fevers can increase the chances of becoming dehydrated, so drinking plenty of water is a must. Try mixing a salty liquid such as chicken or vegetable broth and a sweet liquid like tea, juice, or iced fruit pops. According to Patricia A. Stinchfield, a pediatric nurse practitioner, the mixture will replace electrolytes, promote full hydration and may help thin out thick mucus. 

Monitor your temperature
A low-grade fever itself is not harmful, however, it can mean that you are still contagious. Monitoring your temperature can keep you up to date on if your temperature spikes or not. In young children, temperature spikes may trigger seizures. 

Reach out to your healthcare provider if needed
Watch out for complications such as difficulty breathing or swallowing, or if you experience disorientation. These are signs that indicate pneumonia, bronchitis, or dehydration. The individuals vulnerable to these conditions are:

  • Children
  • Elderly
  • People with chronic conditions

You should also reach out to your healthcare provider if drinking or urinating become difficult or is painful.


Days 5-6

Invest in some natural remedies
After a few days of having the flu in your system, the body aches and fevers may by gone but sore throat and cough often continue for a while longer. Here are a few good remedies that will be useful during this time: 

  • Lozenges
  • Honey
  • Salt-water gargle
  • Plenty of tea or soup

If you feel that you are recovering and have been without a fever for 24 hours, then you many consider getting back to school or work.


7+ Days

Do not panic
Like mentioned above, the flu can last up to 1-2 weeks. If you feel that you are in the process of recovering, just continue what you have been doing and little by little, you should be on your way to full recovery. 

Call your healthcare provider
If you are not improving or you are showing signs of complications, you may be developing pneumonia, sinusitis, or another health-related issue. Call you healthcare provider to learn more about what you can do.


References
1. https://www.consumerreports.org/medical-symptoms/treating-a-cold-or-the-flu-day-by-day-guide/
2. https://www.cdc.gov/healthywater/hygiene/etiquette/coughing_sneezing.html
3. https://www.mayoclinic.org/

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