Cold or flu – clues to help you decide
One is the most common illness in New Zealand; the other is a severe and sometimes deadly infection but for most of us working out which is a cold and which is flu can be tricky.
While they’re both respiratory infections, there are some important differences between colds and the flu. Flu is likely to: • Develop suddenly • Be a moderate to severe illness which lasts seven to 10 days
• Be accompanied by a fever, usually high
• Cause shivering, muscle aches which can be severe, a headache and a dry cough which becomes moist. Colds are likely to: • Develop more gradually
• Cause a mild illness with a mild fever, runny nose, a mild headache and sometimes a cough but muscle pain is uncommon.
Chances are, if you have the flu you won’t have the energy to get out of bed and will feel very exhausted but with a cold you’re likely to feel tired but to keep going about most daily tasks.
Both colds and flu are caused by viruses, organisms which enter and inhabit living cells and make numerous copies of themselves.
They then spread throughout the body, infecting other cells and causing illness.
Antibiotics are powerless against cold and flu viruses but they may be prescribed if a patient could also have a bacterial infection.
There are steps you can take to feel more comfortable when you have a cold or the flu.
Rest, preferably in a warm and relaxed environment, is important and it will help your immune system to fight off these bugs.
Those with the flu, especially, are urged to take time off work to recover and avoid spreading the virus to others.
Drinking plenty of fluids, like water or diluted fruit juice, helps prevent the membranes in your nose and throat drying out.
It also replaces fluid lost from your body if you have a fever which is making you sweat.
Fever, aches and pains can be controlled with aspirin or paracetamol for adults. It is important to note that aspirin should not be given to children under the age of 18. Some people find that breathing in hot steam, either in the shower or from a bowl, can help relieve a blocked nose.
You should always see your doctor if your symptoms do not improve after a few days or if more severe symptoms develop. These include increasing breathing problems, coughing up yellow or green phlegm, severe headaches or dehydration.