Most people can feel that tingling, weak feeling at the very beginning of coming down with a cold or flu. With the way we attack a cold or flu (covered in the “Colds and the Flu” general heading), early reaction to even the possibility will help prevent it from progressing. However, when you wake up with that achy, feverish, can’t move a muscle feeling, you now know you have something. How do you know whether you have a cold or the flu?
Both are caused by a virus. A cold is a milder respiratory illness than the flu. While cold symptoms can make you feel bad for a few days, flu symptoms can make you feel quite ill for a few days to weeks. The flu — whether it’s typical seasonal flu or the swine flu virus — can also result in serious health problems such as pneumonia and hospitalizations.
What are common cold symptoms?
Cold symptoms usually begin with a sore throat, which usually goes away after a day or two. Nasal symptoms, runny nose, and congestion follow, along with a cough by the fourth and fifth days. Fever is uncommon in adults, but a slight fever is possible. Children are more likely to have a fever with a cold.
With cold symptoms, your nose teems with watery nasal secretions for the first few days. Later, these become thicker and darker. Dark mucus is natural and does not usually mean you have developed a bacterial infection, such as a sinus infection.
Cold symptoms usually last for about a week. During the first three days that you have cold symptoms, you are contagious. This means you can pass the cold to others, so stay home and get some much-needed rest. If cold symptoms do not seem to be improving after a week, you may have an additional bacterial infection.
What are common flu symptoms?
Whether a person has typical seasonal flu or swine flu, the symptoms seem to be quite similar. Flu symptoms are usually more severe than cold symptoms and come on quickly. Symptoms of swine flu or other flu include sore throat, fever, headache, muscle aches and soreness, congestion, and cough. Swine flu in particular is also associated with vomiting and diarrhea.
Most flu symptoms gradually improve over two to five days, but it’s not uncommon to feel run down for a week or more. A common complication of the flu is pneumonia, particularly in the young, elderly, or people with lung or heart problems. If you notice shortness of breath, you should let your doctor know. Another common sign of pneumonia is fever that comes back after having been gone for a day or two.
Just like cold viruses, flu viruses enter your body through the mucous membranes of your nose, eyes, or mouth. Every time you touch your hand to one of these areas, you could be infecting yourself with a virus, which makes it very important to keep your hands germ-free with frequent washing to prevent both flu and cold symptoms.
Is it flu or cold symptoms?
How do you know if you have flu or cold symptoms? Take your temperature, say many experts. Whether it’s seasonal or swine influenza, the symptoms often mimic cold symptoms with nasal congestion, cough, aches, and malaise. But a common cold rarely has symptoms of fever above 101 degrees F. With flu symptoms, you will probably have a fever initially and you will feel miserable. Usually, the time of year will give you some sense of what you’re dealing with. The standard flu season runs from fall to spring of the next year.
Body and muscle aches are also more common with the flu. This table can help determine if you have cold or flu symptoms.
Chest, Cough Mild hacking cough Common; can become severe
In some cases, you may need to get emergency medical attention right away. In adults, signs of a crisis include:
Severe chest pain
Shortness of breath
Bluish skin color
Symptoms that were improving and then suddenly worsen
Fever with a rash