Feeling miserable: Is it the flu or just a cold?
Last year’s flu season was one of the worst in a decade, says the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). And as we head into this year’s season, the CDC says it’s too early to predict the severity since each year has so many variables. Flu activity commonly peaks in the in January or February.
Even if we’re diligent about washing our hands, getting the flu shot and taking every precaution to fend off the bug, we may still end up our our backs with miserable symptoms. But how do we know if it’s really the flu or just a bad head and chest cold?
Health experts say it’s more important than ever that you learn to distinguish the difference between flu and cold symptoms. What makes things confusing is that some of the same symptoms show up with both colds and flu. Both can include sore throat, congestion and headaches.
Dr. Tony Hampton, a family medicine physician with the Advocate Medical Group, says there are key differences between cold and flu symptoms.
“The differences are between intensity and duration,” Hampton says. “Flu symptoms tend to appear quickly and are often marked by intense muscle aches, fatigue, vomiting and fever. Flu also has a bigger impact on the respiratory system than a typical cold.”
Dr. Hampton says weakness and fatigue from flu can last for weeks. Common cold symptoms usually pass sooner. “Fever is far more common with the flu than colds,” Dr. Hampton says. “And patients with colds usually have runny or stuffy noses. Not so much with the flu.”
Experts say that if you experience difficulty breathing or are having chest pain, you should seek emergency care immediately.
Dr. Hampton recommends that people visit their primary care physician to get an influenza test if they suspect having the flu. And Dr. Hampton says it’s not too late to get this year’s flu shot, which protects against the strain that is sickening so many people. “This provides the best protection healthcare can offer against contracting the flu,” he says.
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