Cold and Flu: What’s the difference between both?
The flu and the common cold may seem similar. Both are respiratory disorders and share similar symptoms. But then, they are caused by different viruses, and with time, the symptoms will help you distinguish between both.
Both the flu and a cold share some symptoms in common. People with cold or flu often experience symptoms such as:
- A runny nose
- Stuffy nose
- Aches in the body
- General fatigue
But it is worth knowing that symptoms of the flu are generally severer than cold symptoms.
Another major difference between both conditions is their level of severity. Colds rarely cause complications. Conversely, the flu can lead to complications like sepsis, pneumonia, ear infections, and sinus infections.
If you experience any of the symptoms listed above, then do well to see a doctor. He or she will run tests that can help reveal the cause of your symptoms.
If your healthcare provider diagnoses a cold, then all you need do is treat the symptoms until the virus has run its course. Treatments for cold include getting enough rest, staying hydrated, and using OTC cold medications.
If your doctor diagnoses the flu, then you will have to treat it as an OTC flu medication. Treatment should be done early in the virus cycle. Hydration and rest are very important for people suffering from the flu. And just like the common cold, the flu takes some time to spread through your body.
What causes colds?
Cold is caused by cold rhinovirus. The virus spreads across persons and or from the surface to person. A virus can survive for days on a surface. If a person who has the virus touches a surface (like a door handle), anyone who touches that surface several days afterward might contract the virus.
You won’t get sick if the virus stays on your skin. However, if it spreads to your nose, eyes, or mouth, you’ll get sick.
What are the symptoms of a cold?
The symptoms take a few days to manifest. Cold symptoms rarely appear suddenly. Being able to distinguish between flu and cold symptoms can help you decide the right treatment to take – and whether it is necessary seeing your doctor or not.
Symptoms that affect the nasal region include:
- Sinus pressure
- Stuffy nose
- Runny nose
- Loss of taste or smell
- Watery secretions from the nose
- Postnasal drainage or drip in the back of your throat
Symptoms that affect the head include:
- Watery eyes
- Sore throat
- Swollen lymph nodes
Symptoms that affect the whole body include:
- General tiredness or fatigue
- Low-grade fever
- Chest discomfort
- Inability to breathe well
Remedies for adults
If you are experiencing cold symptoms, then it is likely that you will seek relief. Cold treatments are grouped into two major classes:
Typical medications used to treat common cold include antihistamines, decongestants, and analgesics. Sometimes, these medicines may be combined. If you using any, ensure that you read the label and understand its usage instructions.
The most potent home remedies for common cold include rest, hydration, and gargling with saltwater. Studies have shown that echinacea can also reduce cold symptoms. Note that these treatments do not treat or cure a cold. What they do is to reduce the severity of the symptoms.
If your blood pressure is on the high side, discuss it with your doctor before taking any cold medicine. Most of these medicines are not contra-indicated in high blood pressure patients. However, some cold medications (decongestants) can cause the narrowing of the blood vessels. This may cause your blood pressure to rise, and if your blood pressure is already on the high side, the decongestant will complicate the problem.
Cold remedies for kids
The FDA has advised against giving OTC cold medicines to children under the age of 4. Some doctors advise that these medicines be given to children who have attained the age of 6.
You can ease your child’s symptoms with these remedies:
Rest: Irritability and lethargy is common among children with a cold. Allow them to rest at home until the cold has cleared.
Food: Children who have a cold may not have a big appetite, so you will have to find a way to make them eat. Soups and smoothies are excellent options.
Hydration: Children who have a cold should take lots of fluid. Colds dehydrate the body quickly. Ensure that they drink regularly. Water is very important. They can also take some warm tea to soothe their throat.
Warm baths: A warm bath relieves fever and mild pains in the body. these symptoms usually accompany a cold.
Salt gargles: Sore throats are a very unpleasant experience, but gargling with warm, salty water can help relieve it. You can also use saline sprays to clear nasal congestions.
Alternatives for cold medications
Common medications used to treat cold in children and adults include pain relievers, antihistamines, and decongestants.
Decongestants also relieve stuffiness and nasal congestion. Antihistamines relieve runny noses and prevent sneezing. Analgesics ease the body pains that accompany a cold.
Common side effects caused by OTC medications include:
- Dry mouth
It is important to note that though these medicines may relieve symptoms, they cannot treat the cold or shorten its duration.
If you have an underlying blood pressure issue, consult your doctor before taking any cold medication. Some cold medications work by narrowing your blood vessels and minimizing blood flow. If you have blood pressure issues, this may alter the flow of blood throughout your body.
Tips to strengthen your immune system during the cold season
Your immune system is your body’s surveillance system. It works round the clock to spot and eliminate bacteria and viruses that sickens your body. The human immune system is quite complex and comprises various cells, organs, and proteins: such as the cornea of the eyes, skin, mucosa of the respiratory system, lymphatic system, and gastrointestinal tract. Chronic stress, an unhealthy diet, lack of sleep, as well as some underlying health conditions can affect the workings of the immune system.
Here are some tips to help you boost your immune system during the cold season.
Receive a flu vaccination
Anyone can get a cold or the flu, even if you don’t have any underlying health condition. As such, you should get a yearly flu vaccination to safeguard yourself and also stop the spread of the ailment. It is worth knowing that flu vaccination enhances herd immunity. If many people are vaccinated, they may be able to extend the protection to young infants or those with a compromised immune system.
Wash your hands always
Many people don’t wash their hands the right way. Some parts of the hands that are left unwashed include the back, between the fingers, and around the fingernails. Viruses survive for a limited period outside their host (human body), meaning that you can contract a virus by touching a sick person or highly exposed surfaces like the fridge door, a doorknob, and then touching your face. So, one of the best ways to avoid getting sick is by washing your hands. Wash with soap and warm water, before eating, after eating, and after visiting the loo. Ensure you dry your hands well after washing them.
Viruses cannot stay airborne if the air is heavily moisturized. Talk to your doctor or pharmacist to recommend suitable products to humidify the air in your office or house. You can use a saline irrigation solution to hydrate your nasal passages or relieve congestion if you are down with a cold.
Depriving yourself of sleep can affect your immune system. When you sleep, your body will release proteins known as cytokines. These cytokines help your body to fight infections. Not getting enough sleep encourages the buildup of free radicals in your body which can cause health problems.
Drink plenty of water
Proper hydration flushes toxins from your body and thins the mucus in your respiratory tract. When you are down with a cold, more mucus will be produced by your respiratory system to fight the infection and thin the mucus. Thinning the mucus will make it easier to expel it from the body. Mucus is expelled through a runny nose or by coughing.
Ensure that you eat a healthy diet rich in vegetables and fruits, seeds, and nuts. A healthy diet boosts the immune system. Most of your immune system is embedded in your digestive tract so it is important to maintain the health of your intestinal lining. If you are unsure of the healthiness of your diet or you are worried about your weight, just talk to your doctor. They will advise rightly.
Regular exercise is good for your physical and mental health. It is also good for your immune system. Exercise enhances blood flow. Proper circulation of blood translates to a wider circulation of white blood cells around your body. White blood cells are an essential component of your immune system and your body's first line of defense. They penetrate the tissues of the body in search of parasite bacteria, viruses, and fungi.
You can give your immune system a boost by avoiding caffeinated sodas, nicotine, energy drinks, and other stimulants. Smoking depresses the immune system by hindering the activities of the antibodies that fight flu and cold viruses. Drinking alcohol in excess can cause weight gain, which suppresses your immunity. Alcohol also dehydrates your body and creates an environment suitable for the growth of viruses.
Stress management should be taken seriously
Psychologists specializing in psychoneuroimmunology think that a person's state of mind can affect his or her health. Managing chronic stress can help your body to fight germs. If you are depressed or struggling to cope, talk to your doctor. He or she will gladly help you to manage your mental health issue.
Spend time in the open
Staying for a long time inside a heated building can enhance the spread of viruses. Take some time out to get fresh air and some vitamin D from the sun.