Ask A Pharmacist

Is It A Cold, Or The Flu?

Our Customers Asked:

What’s the difference between a cold and the flu?

Our Experts Answered:

Since there are quite a few over-the-counter medications that tout the relief of both cold and flu symptoms, it certainly can seem like the two illnesses are one and the same. But the flu and cold are, in fact, two totally distinct conditions (the former is caused by the influenza virus, and the latter is caused by the adenovirus or coronavirus, of which there are countless subclasses).

The good news is that it’s actually quite easy to distinguish between the common cold and the flu. Arming yourself with this knowledge will help you focus on the best prevention and recovery strategy without wasting time on an inefficient approach.

“The key is to pay attention to the quantity and severity of your symptoms.”

First, bear in mind that everyone experiences a different blend of symptoms depending on the virus and the individual’s unique reaction to it. Below are the most discerning characteristics of the cold and the flu, but remember there is no one-size-fits-all description of one or the other. In other words, you can have a slight fever and have a cold, and you can feel congested with the flu. The key is to pay attention to the quantity and severity of your symptoms—and how quickly the illness showed up in order to accurately determine which virus you’re battling.

The major differences of cold and flu symptoms

FLU: The flu hits you like a bolt of lightning. In other words, on Tuesday you’re beating your own one-mile record at the gym and on Wednesday you’re bedridden. On top of that, you’re considerably more likely to experience the following with the flu:

  • A fever (usually above 101 degrees Fahrenheit)
  • Chills and sweats
  • Body aches
  • Fatigue
  • Chest congestion

COLD: The cold manifests more gradually. We’ve all been there—it starts with a few sneezes or an itchy throat, and on the first day or two you’re still able to function. But the main difference is that the symptoms appear mainly above the neck:

  • Runny nose
  • Cough or sneezing
  • Watery eyes
  • Sore throat
  • Nasal congestion

The best way to prevent and treat the flu and cold

The flu is a serious, potentially fatal illness that should be addressed immediately. Not only does it affect the nose and throat, it can infect the lungs and lead to bronchitis, pneumonia or ear infections.

The absolute best way to prevent the flu is to get a vaccination. There are various strains that circulate from season to season in different regions, so the shot isn’t 100% effective. At the very least if you get the flu it will probably be a mild case. If you become infected, seek professional advice, especially if your fever persists, if you have trouble breathing or if you feel lots of pain. This is when sound judgment comes in. You may need prescription anti-viral medication. The medication works best when taken early err on the safe side and make the call early.

There is no vaccine for the cold, but it’s not as serious and will normally go away on its own. Once you’re infected, though, you can shave off a few days by getting lots of rest, drinking fluids and loading up on vitamin C and zinc. Take Redoxon Vitamin C/Zinc Double Action Effervescent Tablets and Strepsils With Vitamin C Lozenges to ease throat discomfort.

While you wait for your cold to completely disappear, there’s more you can do to ease the disruptive symptoms. First, turn to homeopathy to allay the sneezing, runny nose and congestion with Boiron Coldcalm.

You can also clear our the mucous in your respiratory system using a saline spray or Neti pot, a genie’s lamp that enables you to safely irrigate your nasal passage using water and salt. This ancient Ayurvedic practice helps flush out the virus where it multiplies the most.

And while most of us prefer to stay in bed all day, consider soaking in a therapeutic bath to help comfort yourself and clear the congestion. C.O. Bigelow Cold and Flu Soak is infused with powerful oils from healing botanicals like eucalyptus and peppermint to help your breathe, as well as echinacea and ginger to support your immunity. If anything, taking a respite in the bath is also a great way to feel revitalized and cleansed.

We all know the best way to prevent the cold or flu is to avoid contact with it in the first place. Stay away from enclosed spaces without ventilation, wash your hands regularly and keep your immune system strong. But if you weren’t able to evade this season’s storm of fevers and sneezes, there are lots of things you can do to feel like yourself again. Good luck!

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