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Cold or flu: Which bug has you down?


By Karis Gabrielson, R.N.
Published by United HealthCare

Sniffles, aches, fever, fatigue, coughing. They can all make for a lousy day. But, are they signs of a cold or the flu?

It's not always easy to tell. In some ways these illnesses are alike. Viruses cause both colds and the flu, or influenza. And, they share some symptoms — especially those that affect the nose, throat and lungs.

But, there are important differences, too. Check out these questions and answers to learn more about how to tell a cold from the flu — and what to do if you do get sick.

Q. How do cold and flu symptoms differ?
A. It's often a matter of how bad they are. You might feel sick with a cold but downright miserable with the flu.

And, cold symptoms generally develop slowly — while the flu tends to hit fast and hard.

If it's a cold, you may have a sore throat, sneezing, and a stuffy or runny nose. With the flu, you're more likely to have a fever, chills, headache, coughing, body aches and fatigue. But, those symptoms can overlap — and it's not always easy to tell the difference.

Q. What treatments help?
A. For both a cold and the flu, be sure to get plenty of rest and enough fluids. You might consider over-the-counter medicines for aches, fever and congestion. But, read labels closely — and talk with your doctor or pharmacist — to make sure a medicine is appropriate for you.*

Also, be careful to avoid double-dosing. Some cold and fever products have the same active ingredients — and taking too much can be dangerous.

Q. Should I call my doctor?
A. That's usually not necessary for a cold — if you're an otherwise healthy person. But, it may be a good idea for the flu. Early in the illness, doctors can prescribe antiviral drugs to treat influenza. They can be especially important for people who are very ill — or who are at high risk of serious complications from the flu, such as:

  • Pregnant women
  • Young children
  • Adults 65 and older
  • People with weakened immune systems or chronic health conditions, such as asthma, diabetes, and heart or lung diseases

Of course, if you have questions — or your cold or flu symptoms are getting worse — it never hurts to check in with your doctor.

Don't miss your shot
The flu can be dangerous. That's why flu vaccination is so important — and recommended for nearly everyone 6 months and older. And, it's not too late to get this year's vaccine. Check with your doctor's office about where to find it.

See "Foil the flu, curb colds" for more pointers on prevention.

*For safety's sake, do not give over-the-counter products to children without checking with the doctor first. Some medicines could have serious, even life-threatening, side effects.

This article is provided by Healthy Mind Healthy Body.  Please click on the link below to register for your own monthly newsletter.

© 2013, United HealthCare Services, Inc. All rights reserved. Reprinted with permission.


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