Most of us get a cold at some point each year, some are worse than others and it can get so bad we end up missing work or school. But how can you tell if what you’re suffering from is the common cold, or full-blown flu?
Both colds and flu are caused by viruses, although the symptoms can be similar, the viruses that cause them are different. It is thought that there are around 200 viruses that cause the common cold, and only 3 that can cause flu.
Symptoms of a Cold
Cold symptoms usually begin with a sore throat, which can go away after a day or two. Nasal symptoms, runny nose and congestion follow, as can a cough by the fourth and fifth days. Symptoms are generally milder than flu and do not tend to lead to serious health complications.
- Mild temperature (fever) of around 100.4-102.2°F
- Sore throat/pain when swallowing
- Runny or blocked nose
How to Cope With a Cold
Colds are contagious during the first three days of infection, so if possible try and stay at home to prevent passing it on. Get lots of rest and try and ease congestion with over the counter medicines, such as Beechams. Pick a solution that targets the symptoms affecting you the most.
When to See the Doctor
Colds will normally clear up by themselves after a few days. However, if your symptoms persist for over a week it is worth seeing the doctor as it could be the sign of another condition. You could have allergies, or a bacterial or sinus infection that requires antibiotics. A constant cough could also be a sign of asthma.
Symptoms of the Flu
Like the Common Cold, Influenza, or ‘Flu’, is a respiratory illness. However, it can develop into a more severe illness, such as pneumonia. While the common cold can be contracted at any time, the flu tends to be seasonal – it is most common between Autumn and Spring, and reaches a peak in mid-winter.
- Fever or chills (although not everyone with the flu will run a fever)
- Sore throat
- Muscle or body aches, headache
- Stuffy and runny nose
- Profound fatigue (may last two to three weeks)
- Some people may experience vomiting and diarrhoea, but this is most common in children.
How to Cope With the Flu
For most people, lots of rest and fluids will clear the flu virus. Over the counter medicines, such as Beechams will clear help manage your symptoms and leave you feeling better. Try Beechams Flu Plus for effective treatment of your more troubling symptoms. Prescribed drugs such as Tamiflu or Relenza can treat the flue and shorten its duration, however these have to be taken within the first few days of infection.
When to See the Doctor
If you are part of the at risk group (see below) you are eligible for the flu vaccine. If you do contract symptoms you should see the doctor straight away.
- People aged 65 or over
- People who have a serious medical condition
- Pregnant women
Otherwise you may wish to seek medical advice if your symptoms persist or become more severe or you fear you may be developing signs of pneumonia.