Learn about cold & flu symptoms, treatment and prevention

Know if they’re flu or cold symptoms right now

There is a considerable overlap among cold, flu (influenza) and allergy symptoms that can lead you to a great deal of confusion. Colds and flu (influenza) are caused by different types of viruses. The main indication that you might have a case of aggressive flu (influenza) is the sudden and extremely acute onset of the symptoms. However, different symptoms can help identify whether an illness is the common cold, influenza or nasal allergy.

Symptoms of the Common cold

Symptoms can range from a mild cough to congestion, and can last for various amounts of time. Some symptoms are more bothersome, and common, than others. Symptoms of the common cold include:

  • Sore throat
  • Nasal congestion
  • Runny nose
  • Sneezing
  • Headache
  • Cough

Fever, chills, headache, body aches and fatigue are typically mild, if present at all.

Allergy symptoms

Allergic rhinitis shares some cold and flu-like symptoms, but in contrast to colds and influenza, it is triggered by airborne environmental allergens such as pollen, dust and mould spores rather than by viruses. Common symptoms of allergic rhinitis include:

  • Watery eyes
  • Itchy nose, eyes or throat
  • Bursts of repetitive sneezing
  • Nasal congestion
  • Postnasal drip
  • Watery discharge from the nose
  • Red, irritated eyes

Be aware that a flu vaccine won’t protect you from a cold

Getting a flu vaccination before flu season only protects against flu. Unfortunately, there is no vaccination for the common cold. The best method of prevention is maintaining a healthy immune system.

Take cover from coughs and sneezes

The most common way to catch a cold is through direct contact with contaminated hands or surfaces. But you can also catch a cold through the tiny droplets that are aerosolised by coughs or sneezes. After a sneeze, the droplets can carry germs through the air that others can inhale. Fortunately, these droplets gradually fall out of the air. To stay away from those germs try to wash your hands as often as possible or use a hand sanitiser. If you are the one sneezing and coughing, use tissue to cover your mouth.

Fever

Fight fever with fluids

When you’re fighting a fever, try drinking at least a small glass of fluid every hour. Water or non-carbonated sports drinks work best. And remember, even if you’re not sweating, you can still get dehydrated if you don’t drink enough. Moisture from fluids may also help you with sore throat relief.

Feed a fever

Cold and flu symptoms may include a fever. Your body needs food to fuel your immune system when it’s fighting off a virus, so if you have a fever, don’t forget to eat regularly. Chicken or vegetable soup might be exactly what you need during the illness.

Exercise with a cold, but not the flu

Usually, it’s OK to exercise even if you have a cold, but take it steady and exercise more gently than normal. When you have flu or a fever, stay at home and relax to recover.

Keep your immune system healthy

The best way to protect yourself against the common cold is to keep your immune system healthy. To keep your immune system at its strongest, eat healthy foods such as fruits and vegetables as they are rich in vitamins and minerals. Also, get a full night’s rest as often as possible. Exercise is also important for a healthy immune system.

Not getting enough sleep decreases your immune system’s ability to fight off a cold.14 Try to get a consistent six to eight hours of sleep every night.

14 The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention

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