Category Archives: Is it a Cold or the Flu

Is it a Cold or the Flu?

How do you tell the difference between a cold and the flu?

With children, trying to figure out the difference between a cold, defined as;  A contagious viral upper respiratory tract cold_or_fluinfection. The common cold can be caused by many different types of viruses, and the body can never build up resistance to all of them, and the Flu, defined as; Short for influenza,  is caused by viruses that infect the respiratory tract.

The flu and the common cold are both respiratory illnesses but they are caused by different viruses. Because these two types of illnesses have similar flu-like symptoms it can be difficult to tell the difference between them based on symptoms alone.

In general, the flu is worse than the common cold, and symptoms such as fever, body aches, extreme tiredness, and dry cough are more common and intense.

Colds are usually milder than the flu. People with colds are more likely to have a runny or stuffy nose. Colds generally do not result in serious health problems, such as pneumonia, bacterial infections, or hospitalizations.

How can you tell the difference between a cold and the flu?
Because colds and flu share many symptoms, it can be difficult (or even impossible) to tell the difference between them based on symptoms alone. Special tests that usually must be done within the first few days of illness can be carried out, when needed to tell if a person has the flu.

What are the symptoms of the flu versus the symptoms of a cold?
In general, the flu is worse than the common cold, and symptoms such as fever, body aches, extreme tiredness, and dry cough are more common and intense.  Most people who get the flu recover completely in 1 to 2 weeks, but some people develop serious and potentially life-threatening medical complications, such as pneumonia.

Colds are a frequent and recurring problem. Going out into cold weather has no effect on causing a cold. Antibiotics do not cure or shorten the duration of a cold.

Symptoms of a Cold include:
Symptoms of a cold can be felt about 1 to 4 days after catching a cold virus.

  • Burning feeling in the nose or throat
  • followed by sneezing
  • a runny nose
  • feeling of being tired and unwell
  • fever is not usually present
    This is the period when you are most contagious — you can pass the cold to others — so it’s best to stay home and rest.

If you are coughing up dark material — or feeling a lot of distress low down in your lungs,  you may have a bacterial infection. These symptoms can also be caused by a cold virus other than a rhinovirus (the most common viral infective agents in humans and the predominant cause of the common cold).

Usually there is no fever. In fact, fever and more severe symptoms may indicate that you have the flu rather than a cold.

Cold symptoms typically last for about three days. At that point the worst is over, but you may feel congested for a week or more.

Except in newborns, colds themselves are not dangerous. They usually go away in four to ten days without any special medicine. Unfortunately, colds do wear down your body’s resistance, making you more susceptible to bacterial infection.  If your cold is nasty enough, seek medical attention. Your doctor may take a throat culture by brushing the throat with a long cotton-tipped swab. This will show whether you have a bacterial infection, which requires treatment with antibiotics.

Call Your Doctor About a Cold If:

  • You notice an inability to swallow
  • You have a sore throat  for more than two or three days, particularly if it seems to be worsening
  • You have an earache
  • You have a stiff neck or sensitivity to bright lights
  • Your are pregnant or nursing
  • Your newborn or infant has cold symptoms
  • Your throat hurts and your temperature is 101 degrees F or higher
  • Your cold symptoms worsen after the third day. You may have a bacterial infection.

And, NEVER give a child or infant any medications that contain aspirin, or salicylates, due to the risk of triggering Reye’s Syndrome.

How Are Flu Symptoms Different From Cold Symptoms?
Unlike symptoms of a common cold, flu symptoms usually come on suddenly. It often starts with the abrupt onset of fever, headache, fatigue, and body aches.

  • fever (usually high)
  • severe aches and pains in the joints and muscles and around the eyes
  • generalized weakness
  • ill appearance with warm, flushed skin and red, watery eyes
  • headache
  • dry cough
  • sore throat and watery discharge from your nose

Seasonal influenza is not usually associated with gastrointestinal symptoms like diarrhea and vomiting, at least not in adults. However, these symptoms appear with stomach flu, which is a popular but inaccurate term for gastroenteritis.

Common Flu Symptoms in Children
Typical signs of seasonal flu in children include high-grade fever up to 104 degrees F (40 degrees C), chills, muscle aches, headaches, sore throat, dry cough,  and just plain feeling sick. Flu symptoms in children may also cause vomiting and belly pain. These flu symptoms usually last for three to four days, but cough and tiredness may linger for up to two weeks after the fever has gone away.

And, NEVER give a child or infant any medications that contain aspirin, or salicylates, due to the risk of triggering Reye’s Syndrome.

Flu Symptoms in Infants and Toddlers
In young children, seasonal flu symptoms may be similar to those of other respiratory tract infections such as croup,   bronchitis, or pneumonia. Abdominal pain, vomiting and diarrhea are frequently observed in young children. Vomiting tends to be more significant than diarrhea. Fever is usually high and irritability may be prominent.

Because young children are at increased risk of getting severe flu complications, the CDC recommends that all children aged 6 months get a seasonal flu vaccine every year.

And, NEVER give a child or infant any medications that contain aspirin, or salicylates, due to the risk of triggering Reye’s Syndrome.

 Familiarize yourself with the symptoms of Reye’s Syndrome, a disease that can be triggered after a child suffers through a viral infection.   Reye’s Syndrome symptoms can often be mistaken for flu, or gastroenteritis, since vomiting is one of the first signs of Reye’s, followed by lethargy, listlessness, loss of pep, then confusion, irritability, and combativeness.

Do not give your child medications that can mask these symptoms, such as pepto-bismol, (of which, some products contain salicylates (aspirin)).

ALWAYS read the label before administering any Over the Counter medication to your child!  If in doubt, ask your pharmacist. 

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