It is important to know the difference between colds and Influenza ( flu ) symptoms. A cold is mild respiratory illness than flu. While cold symptoms can make you feel bad for a few days, flu symptoms can make you can make you feel ill for a few days to a few weeks. Flu can also result in serious health conditions such as pneumonia and hospitalizations.
Colds and flu share some of the same symptoms ( sore throat, cough ) but are caused by different viruses. Flu can be more serious than cold. Each year thousands of people die of complications after catching flu. Colds and influenza are two of the most common seasonal illnesses affecting millions of people each year around the world.
Colds are very common. Children may get 5-10 colds a year, while adults get 2-4 colds a year. Colds affect the nose, the throat and the upper airways. Colds are caused by about 200 different viruses and there is no vaccine for a cold.
Flu on the other hand, is aviral infection affecting your nose, throat and sometimes your lungs. There are three different types of influenza virus that infect humans – types A, B and C. Only influenza A and B cause major outbreaks and severe disease. There is a vaccine available for the flu and it is usually recommended for high risk people like the elderly or those with chronic illnesses. Yearly vaccination is usually recommended.
What are the Symptoms of Colds and Flu?
Cold viruses grow in the soft, warm surfaces of your inner nose, throat, sinuses and airways. These are where you usually get symptoms. Typically, you will get a blocked runny nose, congestion, sneezing and sore throat and a cough. You can also have a fever, aching muscles and general tiredness. These symptoms usually lasts for about a week.
The flu symptoms are similar to that of colds, but the muscle aching is usually more severe and tiredness may last for a few weeks after illness has cleared up. In addition, you are likely to get a fever and you may also lose your appetite, feel sick or have diarrhea.
For colds and flu in children, symptoms may last for more than 10 days;
• May have high fever or a fever that lasts for more than 3 days.
• Trouble breathing, fast breathing or wheezing
• Bluish skin color for people of light color.
• Changes in mental state.
• Vomitting or abdominal pain.
Complications of Colds and Flu
Most healthy adults take flu as just a nasty cold. However, young children, the elderly and people with long-term illnesses are more likely to have complications. Complications of flu include having an infection in your lungs ( pneumonia ), ears, nose or throat. Children under six with flu can some times have seizures or fits – known as febrile convulsions because of their high body temperature.
You are at greater risk of having complications if you are elderly or if you have;
• Chronic lung disease such as chronic obstructive pulmonary disease.
• Heart disease
• Kidney disease
• Reduced immunity
Treatment of Colds and Flu
There is no cure for colds and flu. Antibiotics which treat infections caused by bacteria, do not work on cold and flu viruses. However, all you can do to feel better is treat your symptoms while your body fights off the viruses. Here are some of the things you can do;
• Get plenty of rest, especially when you have a fever. Rest helps your body fight infections.
• Stop smoking and avoid second hand smoke, which can make cold symptoms worse.
• Drink lots of fluids such as water and clear soups. Fluids help loosen mucus. Fluids are also important because they help prevent dehydration.
• Gargle with warm salt water a few times a day to relieve sore throat. Throat sprays or lozenges may also help relieve pains.
• Do not drink alcohol.
• Use saline ( salt water ) nose drops to loosen mucus and moist
en the tender skin in your nose.
For the flu, your doctor will probably recommend that you treat the symptoms until you feel better. In severe cases, your doctor may prescribe an antiviral medicine. Antiviral medicine can shorten the length of time you are sick with the flu. They come in the form of pills, syrup or inhaler.
For children, pain relievers can help ease the pain of headaches, muscle aches and sore throat as well as treat fevers. Check with your doctor before giving any medicine to children.
How to prevent a Cold or Flu
There area few steps you can take to help prevent catching a cold or flu;
• Eat a balanced diet that is rich in fruits mushrooms and vegetables to help get lots of vitamins and minerals which can boost your immune system. ( See my previous article on this website,’12 Foods That Can Boost Your Immunity’ )
• Take regular, preferably daily exercise and have enough rest for your immune system to work.
• Do not smoke. Even if you do try to stop. Smoking reduces the strength of your immune defenses and reduces your levels of infection-fighting vitamin C.
• Try to stay away from other people to prevent the virus from spreading.
• Cover your mouth when coughing or sneezing and wash your hands regularly.
• Throw away tissues as you have used them.
• If you have flu, stay away from school or work to prevent spreading it to others.
1. Jordan Lite ( 2008 ); “What is the difference between cold and flu”, Scientific America.
2. Editorial staff articles, American Academy of Family Physicians, 2014.
3. Helpguide Publications, 2015.
4. Interent Health Database.