It it the Flu or a Cold?

December 16, 2019

Each year, there are millions of cases of the common cold in the U.S. Adults have an average of 2-3 colds per year, and children have even more.

A cold typically worsens over a day or two. Adults seldom have a fever with a cold. Infants and young children may have a fever with a cold but the fever usually subsides within a couple days.

Flu is usually a sudden onset. Headaches, muscle aches, tiredness/weakness and exhaustion are common and often severe with the flu. A fever is possible with both colds and the flu, but a temperature of 102 or above in children and adults that last 3-4 days is common with the flu.

The Common Cold

The common cold, also known as an upper respiratory infection, is a virus that infects the upper respiratory tract: your nose, mouth and throat. Usually, the first sign is a sore throat and then a runny nose, followed by coughing and sneezing. On average, the recovering time is about a week to 10 days. You can get a cold any time of year, so be mindful of these symptoms:

  • sore throat
  • runny nose
  • coughing
  • sneezing
  • headaches
  • body aches

To feel better, get lots of rest and drink plenty of fluids. Over-the-counter medicines may help ease symptoms but will not make your cold go away any faster. 

"Your children will get colds and are likely to generously share them with you," said Dr. Joseph Kahn, Mercy Kids president. "Although there is neither vaccine nor cure for the common cold, there are measures you can take to make your children more comfortable when they have one."

Although colds are usually benign and self-limited, there are instances in which you should call your child’s doctor. Call if your child has difficulty breathing, is less than 2 to 3 months old, has a croupy or “barking” cough, develops ear pain, fever or significantly decreased activity, or feeds poorly. Most kids have none of these symptoms and just feel crummy. So what can you do to help your child feel better?

Nasal congestion is a big symptom, so keep the nose clear. If your child can blow her nose, encourage doing so. If your child is too young for nose blowing, use a saline nasal spray and bulb syringe to keep nasal passages clear. 

Good hydration is critical and will help to keep nasal secretions thinner and more manageable. Offer plenty of fluids, including water and clear liquids, and whatever you can get your child to drink – though try to avoid highly sweetened drinks.

If your child has a low-grade fever or is uncomfortable and is over 6 months old, offer acetaminophen (Tylenol) or ibuprofen (Advil, Motrin). Never give aspirin. Over-the-counter cough and cold medications have no real use, unless suggested by your doctor. They don’t work and do cause side effects.

Elevating your child’s head during sleep may help, but elevate the head of the bed/mattress, and don’t use pillows for babies and toddlers.

Finally, be patient. Symptoms of the common cold may linger for 10 to 14 days. Do not pressure your doctor to use antibiotics. They don’t work unless a complication such as an ear infection occurs and, even then, are not always necessary.

Fighting the Flu

Each year, tens of thousands of Americans are hospitalized and die from flu and pneumococcal infections. The best way to protect yourself is by getting vaccinated.

Influenza (flu) is a respiratory illness caused by influenza viruses. It is most common between the months of October and March but can extend into May.

It is a very contagious disease that spreads easily by coughing, sneezing and close contact with other people. Anyone can get the flu.

It strikes suddenly with symptoms such as fever, chills, achy muscles, fatigue, cough, sore throat and runny or stuffy nose.

Pregnant women, the elderly, young children and people with asthma, diabetes and heart disease are at the highest risk of developing serious and long-lasting complications.

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In the News

39-Year-Old Man Nearly Dies of Flu - Now Shares His Story

After nearly two months in the hospital followed by three weeks in a nursing home, Charlie Hinderliter is sharing his flu story in an effort to keep others from experiencing the same complications.

Flu is on the rise, but typical for February (St. Louis Post-Dispatch)

Flu and other virus activity continues to rise, prompting school closures and doctor visits.

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