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How Can You Distinguish a Bad Cold From the Flu?

Wondering whether that nasty cough you have is a bad cold or the flu? It’s important to make this distinction since the flu can be treated with anti-viral medications if caught early enough. Here’s how to tell.

It’s almost that time of year. The season when unfriendly, pesky, and sometimes downright miserable viruses make their appearance on the winter stage. It couldn’t happen at a worse time. Just as there are gifts to wrap and meals to prepare, you’re bedridden with a nasty cough and miserable congestion that keeps you propped upright in bed instead of dreaming of the upcoming holidays.

Is it a bad cold or is it the flu? This distinction may be more important than you think. While there’s little that can be done for a bad cold other than relieve the symptoms, the flu can be treated with an anti-viral medication if caught within the first forty-hours. This can shorten the course of the flu significantly which means you can be up and about wrapping packages in days instead of weeks as can be the case with untreated influenza.

How can you distinguish between a bad cold and a case of the flu? In general, the symptoms of the flu, or influenza, will be more severe and will almost always be associated with a fever. While you may carry a fever with a bad cold, if you do, it’s usually low grade. The fever with the flu can run as high as 104 degrees Fahrenheit in some cases.

Another characteristic that distinguishes a bad cold from the flu is the rapidity of onset. The flu usually begins abruptly with the onset of chills, extreme fatigue, and a profound achiness. A headache is often present. Some people with the flu can actually pinpoint the exact time that their symptoms appeared. A bad cold is usually more gradual in onset and the degree of fatigue and sense of achiness is usually absent or very mild.

One characteristic symptom of the flu is a dry, hacking cough that, in some cases, can be associated with shortness of breath. Over time, secondary infection can set in resulting in a more severe cough with production of discolored sputum. With a bad cold, a cough may be present but it’s usually less pronounced and is associated with nasal congestion which may be completely absent with the flu.

What about stomach symptoms? With a bad cold, you can have some loss of appetite but severe nausea or vomiting is usually not present. Not so with the flu. With the flu, you generally have no appetite and may vomit or experience severe nausea.

If in doubt as to whether you’re experiencing a bad cold or the flu, see your doctor particularly if there are flu cases reported in your area. It’s particularly important to see your doctor if you’re over the age of fifty-five, have other health problems, or if you’re pregnant. Children less than two years old should always be seen if there’s a question of influenza. Keep in mind that just because you received the flu vaccine, it doesn’t rule out the possibility of influenza. The flu vaccine only protects against certain types of influenza viruses and you may be infected with one of the types not covered.

Neither a bad cold nor the flu is fun around the holidays. Take precautions and wash your hands frequently. Keep your immune system primed by eating a healthy diet and getting at least seven hours of sleep per night. By taking a few precautions, you can keep yourself healthy through the holiday season.

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  1. I just came home from school with a sore throat, sore arms and legs, tiredness, runny nose and slight cough and im freezing but Mum said I don’t have BAD fever soooo…..

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