What is the difference?
The common cold is caused by a wide variety of respiratory viruses whereas the flu is caused by the Influenza virus, type A or type B. Although both are viral infections, influenza tends to present with more severe symptoms, which include high fever, body aches, extreme fatigue, and dry cough. Symptoms associated with the common cold are much milder than the flu. People with colds are more likely to have a runny or stuffy nose and if fever does occur, it is usually low grade. Colds generally do not result in serious health problems, such as pneumonia, bacterial infections, or hospitalizations.
How can you tell if it’s a common cold or the flu?
Because colds and flu share many symptoms, it can be difficult (or even impossible) to tell the difference between them based on symptoms alone. There is a special test that is very sensitive for diagnosing influenza and is most accurate when the person is tested in the first few days after onset of symptoms.
When should I see a doctor?
If you experience any flu-like symptoms, you should seek medical attention. If testing is performed and the diagnosis of influenza is made, treatment with an anti-viral medication is available (if caught within 48 hours of symptomatology). If symptoms are mild (and consistent with the common cold), it is reasonable to trial over the counter remedies. If symptoms do not improve, one can seek medical attention to prevent complications (upper respiratory bacterial infections).
What is the treatment?
For any viral illness, the basic remedies are fever control (ibuprofen or Tylenol), fluids, and rest. Viral illness are self-limiting. There is a medication called Tamiflu, which is an anti-viral agent that targets influenza directly, but is only effective if started within 48 hours of onset of symptoms. Symptoms of the common cold or flu may last several days to a week. Preventing the spread of infection is crucial! Frequent hand washing or sanitizing and covering a cough is the key to preventing the transmission of illness to others.
You can be evaluated and treated for the flu or cold at PromptMD Urgent Care Center. We are a walk in center available 7 days a week and no appointment needed. We have the rapid influenza A & B tests and rapid strep tests available. We also have a lab and x-ray capabilities on-site.