The 2019/2020 flu season is in full swing, and by all accounts it’s an especially bad season. In Canada, an earlier-than-usual outbreak of Influenza B is sending more children to the hospital than in previous years. On the other hand, most of the recent adult hospitalizations were due to Influenza A. The U.S., too, is seeing higher than normal hospitalizations. And, this flu season shows no signs of slowing down.
But the flu isn’t the only virus making the rounds. Viruses that cause colds are also on the rise, and the symptoms can be very similar to the symptoms of flu. So how do you know if you have a cold or the flu? In general, the flu tends to be much more intense and can lead to complications like sinus and ear infections, pneumonia, inflammation of the heart, and occasionally death. A cold will usually resolve without further complications and really never considered something that could be deadly.
Cold and flu can both cause symptoms like:
But the flu also causes:
If you’re feeling miserable, you might wonder why it matters whether it’s a cold or the flu. But knowing makes a difference in how you should treat your symptoms.
The most important thing to remember is that you can take measures to prevent both the flu and colds. For both, you should practice good and frequent hand washing! When you’re out in public and touching things that a lot of other people are touching, try not to touch your eyes, nose or mouth. This is the common process for transmission. If you do end up with cold or flu germs on your hands, frequent hand washing will help you knock it off and carry on. Extremely important is to make sure that you get your annual flu shot! The flu shot is the most effective way to help you avoid the flu all together; if you do get it, it can dramatically reduce the symptoms and their duration.
If you do get the flu or a cold, the best treatment for both is certainly plenty of rest and fluids as well as over the counter pain relievers if needed. For a cold, that’s often the only treatment available and you normally do not need to see a doctor. But the flu is a different beast.
If you get the flu, you need to realize that flu symptoms can go on for a long time, especially if you have a cough (which can persist for 3-4 weeks or more). The intensity of flu is much greater than a cold and there are situations when visiting the doctor is a good idea. Some people should see a doctor right away if they have a higher than average risk for complications, like those with diabetes or heart disease. Children under the age of five and adults over the age of 65 are also at higher risk for more severe outcomes so they need to be monitored carefully. Consider seeing a doctor if symptoms develop that might indicate a complication, like:
The best things you can do to protect yourself from catching a cold or the flu are: