Monday, January 17, 2011

Is it a Cold or the Flu?

Knowing whether you have a cold or the flu can be difficult to determine, but it's important to know the difference because getting the flu can have life-threatening complications.

Woman blowing her nose with a tissue
How do you know if it's a cold or the flu?

The terms "cold" and "flu" describe illnesses that are caused by many different viruses. However, it is helpful to be able to recognize which type of illness you have so that you will know what to expect and be able to make decisions about whether you need to seek medical care.

Both colds and flus can result in a runny nose, stuffy head, sore throat and fatigue. But there are some readily identifiable ways the illnesses differ. Generally speaking, the common cold has milder symptoms and a quicker recovery period with a low risk of complications. In contrast, the flu tends to make people feel worse, lasts longer and can have life-threatening complications such as pneumonia. Colds tend to peak in intensity on the third day of illness, with recovery in five to seven days. Flu symptoms, conversely, may start with greater intensity and last much longer.

One of the most helpful clues in telling the difference is that if you have a fever of 100 degrees Fahrenheit or higher, you probably do not have a cold. The presence of a fever does not always mean that you have the flu, but it does make it very unlikely that you have a cold.

The main exception to this rule is that children may run fevers when they have a common cold. It is also important to note that while fever is a very common symptom of the flu, it doesn't happen to everyone. The elderly and those with compromised immune systems in particular may not have a fever when they have the flu.

Unlike the common cold, the flu tends to cause full-body symptoms such as chills and muscle aches. The flu also may cause digestive symptoms, such as nausea, vomiting and diarrhea. In contrast, symptoms of the common cold are usually restricted to the head and chest.

Another difference between colds and flus is the type of cough that develops. The common cold tends to cause a wet cough, which may be accompanied by spitting up phlegm. The flu cough tends to be dry, with little or no mucus production.

If you are a healthy teen or adult with a cold or flu, home treatments such as resting and drinking plenty of fluids are probably all you need to make a full recovery. Children younger than two years old, the elderly and adults with chronic health conditions are especially at risk for developing complications from the flu and may require more care. The following are signs that indicate a sick person needs prompt medical attention:

  • Difficulty breathing or chest pain
  • Blue or purplish discoloration of the lips
  • Vomiting with the inability to hold down liquids
  • Signs of dehydration: feeling dizzy when standing, being unable to urinate and for infants, crying without shedding tears
  • Seizures or uncontrolled convulsions
  • Becoming confused or disoriented

There are many things to consider in caring for yourself or family members who have the flu. More information on this topic is available from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

— Miranda Marti, ND, LAc, naturopathic physician and resident at Bastyr Center for Natural Health, the teaching clinic of Bastyr University. For more information, call (206) 834-4100 to schedule an appointment.

Subscribe to Newsletters

CAPTCHA
This question is for testing whether you are a human visitor and to prevent automated spam submissions.
Image CAPTCHA
Enter the characters shown in the image.

More Health Tips

Here are some ways to eat an inexpensive and well-balanced diet consisting of many nutritious whole foods.

Here's how to create a healthy posture to improve your health.

The main benefit of the Paleo diet is that it promotes eating whole, nutritious foods while avoiding refined, processed foods.

While tax season can be daunting and stressful, these are simple, easy ways to help lighten the load.

Behind the calm exterior of a doula is a person who is constantly thinking, strategizing and endeavoring to create an environment to support a pregnant, birthing or postpartum family.

With the recent buzz about gluten- and wheat-free diets, it’s good to know how they compare and if they’re right for everyone.

Events

Apr 19 Continuing Ed

Cannabis has been used since antiquity for a range of therapeutic purposes. The current phenomenon of medical Cannabis use in the U.S. is not well supported by current scientific clinical research due to the legal restrictions of Schedule I status. Regardless, patients are accessing this plant medicine and clinicians are compelled to complete their knowledge base with regard to interaction with patients.
April 19, Sat, 8:30a.m.-5p.m.
Instructor: Michelle Sexton, ND, BS.
(7 CEUs, CMEs)

Apr 19 General

Learn how diet and lifestyle modifications can help you control and prevent type-2 diabetes.

Apr 19 General

Watch your classmates and co-workers battle it out in Top Chef style to raise money to feed the homeless youth of Seattle.

Recent News

David Tolmie, BS ('06), MLIS, combines psychology and technology skills to help students navigate the fast-changing world of evidence-informed medicine.

Coquina Deger, MBA, and David Siebert fill key roles as part of President’s Cabinet

Herbal sciences students cook up foods with love -- and health-giving herbs -- in a popular lab class.

The actor and author joins us for a Q-and-A before her May 22 talk at Bastyr's Spring for Health Luncheon.

Spring 2014: There is a lot blossoming at Bastyr University

Press

Bastyr University Nutrition Faculty Member Receives Prestigious State Honor

The public is invited to a free community event to explore Bastyr University’s teaching clinic

Teaching clinic earns second consecutive year of stellar results in regional patient satisfaction survey

In the Media

FOX Q13: Bastyr University's Ellie Freeman Discusses the FDA’s New Food Labels
Bothell-Kenmore Reporter: Bastyr Center for Natural Health Expands Integrative Oncology Services
Puget Sound Business Journal: Bastyr University's President Daniel Church to Retire