It’s that time of year again when a sneeze or cough can leave you wondering if you’ve got allergies, a cold, or the flu. If your symptoms turn out to be either a cold or the flu, the basic direction is the same: stay home and get plenty of rest so you can recover.
However, there are specific treatments that vary depending on which illness you have, so it’s important to know exactly what you’re dealing with. The best way to get a proper diagnosis is by visiting your provider or local urgent care clinic; however, there are signs and symptoms to watch for that can help you determine whether you’ve got a cold or the flu. Here’s what you need to know.
What are the symptoms of a cold?
In most instances, a cold begins with a sore throat. This normally goes away within a day or two and is followed by nasal symptoms such as a runny nose and congestion. It’s also common to develop a cough by the fourth or fifth day of a cold. You may also notice a fever.
Although cold symptoms will usually last about a week, you should only be contagious for the first three days that symptoms are present. During this time, you’re highly contagious, so you should avoid being around others. Instead, stay home and rest so you can recover.
If your symptoms don’t resolve after a week, you may have a bacterial infection and need an antibiotic to clear it up. Antibiotics are almost never necessary for a cold.
What are the symptoms of the flu?
The influenza viruses enter your body via the mucous membranes of your eyes, nose, or mouth, which means you could be infecting yourself any time you touch one of these areas. Keeping your hands clean by washing them regularly for at least 20 seconds is one of the best ways to prevent the flu.
If you’ve got the flu, there are some tell-tale signs to look out for, including:
- Muscle or body aches
- Fatigue (tiredness)
- Fever or chills
- Sore throat
- Runny or stuffy nose
In most cases, flu symptoms will improve slowly over two to five days, although it’s possible to feel symptoms for up to a week or more.
Pneumonia is a common flu complication, especially for those with existing lung or heart problems as well as the young and elderly. If you notice shortness of breath, you should seek medical attention as this could be an early sign of pneumonia.
One of the best ways to prevent the flu is by getting your flu shot. Now is the best time of year to get your vaccine so you can fight the virus before it begins to peak. CareNow® urgent care clinics offer discounted flu shots for just $20.