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Flu vs Common Cold Symptoms; What Is The Difference

When I was younger, I could not understand why some people would get really sick with flu or cold to a point of missing school or work. I thought, like most people, that flu or common cold symptoms are the same. Now, however, I know better, especially after having a really bad case of the flu early last year.

What's The Difference?
The common cold and the flu are both viral infections of the airways. However, they are caused by different viruses. Although sometimes one can be confused for the other, the flu tends to be more severe and is usually associated with headache, cough, fever, joint and muscle aches, and tiredness.These symptoms can be quite severe.

The common cold, on the other hand, is more likely to be associated with a runny nose, a sore throat, and a nasal stuffiness. Headache, fever, joint and muscle aches are rare with common cold, although one can experience a dry cough.

Both viruses are spread by inhalation, where you breathe in infectious droplets in the air after someone with the flu breathes out or coughs. This means that if you are in close contact with a person with the infection, you could develop flu. You could also get the flu or cold if you touch surfaces touched by an infected person, such as door knobs, and then touch your eyes, nose, or mouth.

In most cases the flu or common cold will clear with no complications. In a few cases, the common cold can result in the inflammation or soreness of the spaces surrounding the nose, often causing severe headache. The flu can result in pneumonia (infection in the lungs) and in a few cases, death, especially in people with low immunity such as diabetics, people with HIV, or those on cancer treatment. Death due to the flu is rare, though.

Most cases of the flu or cold do not need a visit to the doctor. In fact, there is no cure for the common cold; it tends to clear on its own.

An antiviral can be used to treat the flu if given within two days of getting the infection. The main method of treatment though, is home-based. You could do the following at home:
  • Take pain medicine for headache and muscle pain.
  • Adequate sleep or rest.
  • Take adequate amounts of fluids such as some vitamin C either as supplement or foods rich in vitamin C.
  • Take anti-histamine medicines ans decongestants.
If, however, you or your child experience the following, you need to seek medical advise:
  • The symptoms are severe.
  • You notice yellowish nasal discharge or sputum. This could indicate a bacterial infection and will need medical attention.
  • If you develop severe headache or pain in the face.
  • If you have a sore throat that is very red or covered in pus.
  • If you develop difficulty in breathing.
  • If you are on cancer treatment.
As in all cases, prevention is better than cure. since the cold and the flu are mostly spread by inhaling air from the infected person, it is difficult to escape them. However, you can reduce your chances of infection by avoiding crowded places, where possible.

In addition, if one has the flu or cold, they should avoid places where that can easily affect others. If possible, skip a day or two of work or let your child skip a few days of school to avoid spreading the infection.

There's a vaccine available for the flu and this can be given to prevent many cases of the flu. If one is at high risk of getting the flu or developing complications, for example, the very old, and cancer victims, it is advisable to receive the flu vaccine.


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