What is the difference between a cold and the flu?
They are caused by different viruses, according to Lindsay Esch, MD, internal medicine specialist, Centegra Physician Care. “The flu is caused by the influenza virus, and the common cold can be caused by many other types of viruses, but not by the influenza virus.”
Symptoms of a common cold may include cough, sneezing, sore throat, low-grade fever, runny nose and nasal congestion. Cough, runny nose, nasal congestion and sneezing can also indicate influenza. But additional symptoms typical of flu include fever that is typically higher than a cold (up to 102 degrees), plus severe muscle pain, fatigue, exhaustion and weakness.
“Complications from influenza are actually quite uncommon, but can occur in young children or elderly adults, or patients with other chronic medical problems,” Esch said. The most common complication of influenza is pneumonia. “It is recommended that everyone over the age of six months get an annual flu shot, usually in fall before flu season starts.”
“Unfortunately, there’s no cure for the common cold, but we are able to control symptoms,” said Esch. Symptoms can be treated with cough suppressants, decongestants and mild pain relievers like acetaminophen, ibuprofen and naproxen, as well as heated, humified air. Etsch advised consulting a physician before self-treating, because some medications are contraindicated for patients with certain medical conditions.
“Antibiotics are not effective in treating the common cold or flu. They’re targeted against bacteria, not viruses,” said Esch.
To treat flu, patients can use products to manage symptoms as needed. Your physician may also prescribe Tamiflu (oseltamivir phosphate) or a similar medication, which can shorten the duration of illness in some patients who have had symptoms for less than 48 hours, or who have chronic medical conditions or require hospitalization.
“I would recommend contacting your physician immediately if you suspect you have influenza or have been exposed,” Esch said. “You may be a candidate for Tamiflu, and patients can become very ill with influenza.”
Centegra Health System : 4309 Medical Center Drive, McHenry, IL 60050 : 815.338.6600 : centegra.org