Do You Know the Difference Between the Cold and the Flu?

We’re in the midst of a bad flu season that may last longer than most. But do you know the difference between the cold and the flu?  Both are respiratory illnesses that have similar symptoms. Although there is no distinct way to differentiate one from the other, it is important to know the type of symptoms and severity each one can cause. Additionally, special tests can be done within the first few days to determine the type of illness.

Common Cold

  • Symptoms are gradual
  • Slight aches
  • Runny or stuffy nose
  • Sore throat
  • Sneezing
  • Milder conditions compared to the flu

Flu (Influenza)

  • Symptoms are abrupt
  • Fever/feeling feverish (chills)
  • Muscle or body aches
  • Runny or stuffy nose
  • Sore throat
  • Headaches and fatigue (tiredness)
  • Chest discomfort
  • Some may have diarrhea and vomiting (more common in children)

Just like how the common cold and flu have similar symptoms, they can both be treated with a lot of rest, fluids and over the counter medicine. However, the flu must also be treated with prescribed antiviral medicine.

Keeping the Flu and Colds at Bay

The Centers for Disease and Control recommends the following to avoid getting the common cold or flu:

  • Don’t get too close to people who are sick
  • If you’re sick, stay at home
  • Cover cough and sneezes
  • Wash your hands
  • Try not to touch your mouth, nose, or eyes
  • Clean and disinfect surfaces you touched or those who may be sick around you
  • Practice prevention: get vaccinated – even now it’s not too late, get plenty of sleep, avoid stress, stay well hydrated, and eat nutritious snacks and meals.

Know Where to Go

If you or someone in your family has flu symptoms for more than three days, visit your primary care physician (PCP). Other reasons to see your PCP include:

  • Bloody stool or vomit
  • Lack of urine or dark urine which may mean dehydration
  • Oral temperature of over 101.5 degrees Fahrenheit

Your doctor knows you and your family’s health history and can probably see you fast. Another plus to seeing your PCP? A low co-pay.

If the flu strikes after doctor’s office hours, you can get the care and attention you need at an urgent care center. Learn more about Emory Healthcare Network’s partnerships with organizations like MinuteClinic, Peachtree Immediate Care, and Smartcare® Urgent Care. Combined, these partners provide nearly 60 locations throughout metro Atlanta and surrounding counties and puts convenient care where you need it, 7 days a week and no appointment necessary.

When to Go to the ER

It’s time for the ER if you or someone in your care is suffering from:

A temperature over 102 degrees Fahrenheit for more than 2 days that doesn’t respond to medicine
Severe dehydration (symptoms include dark urine or lack of urine)
If you take your child to the ER, have key information ready for the nurse or doctor. Keep track of when symptoms started, how they progressed, how long a fever or rash has lasted, how often your child has gone to the bathroom, any medications, who they’ve been in contact with and any other health concerns. Bring water, snacks and a toy for your child.

If you’re not sure, call your family doctor or the Emory HealthConnection to speak to an Emory nurse at 404-778-7777.

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