Getting sick is no fun, but it happens to the best of us. Although they’re more common in the winter, colds and flus can hit us at any time of the year. Sometimes it’s hard to tell the difference between the two.

The basic difference between the cold and the flu is that they are caused by different viruses. The flu is always caused by a strain of either influenza A or B. The common cold, on the other hand, can be caused by hundreds of different viruses. To those of us outside the medical profession, however, this explanation doesn’t mean much. The easiest way to know whether you have a cold or the flu is to analyze the symptoms. Here is a quick list for each illness:

Cold

* A cough is usually present, and in most cases it is productive.
* Sneezing, stuffy nose and sore throat are common.
* Fever usually does not occur, and if it does it is not high.
* Symptoms usually come on slowly, often over the course of a few days.

Flu

* A high fever, usually between 100 and 104 degrees Fahrenheit, is usually present, and may be accompanied by chills.
* The cough is dry and unproductive.
* Fatigue and muscle aches are usually present, and are often severe.
* Headache and chest discomfort often occur.
* Symptoms set in quickly, usually within a few hours.

Treatment of the Cold and Flu

There is no cure for the common cold. Aside from prevention, the best treatments are rest and over-the-counter medications for bothersome symptoms. The cold should go away on its own within 10 days. If symptoms persist for more than 14 days, it’s a good idea to see a doctor to determine whether a bacterial infection is present.

Doctors can quickly determine whether or not you have the flu with a simple test. If caught early, it can be treated with prescription medications that may reduce its severity and duration. Whether flu medicine is used or not, it is important to get plenty of rest and drink lots of fluids until you’re feeling better, usually within a week or two without antiviral treatment. The flu can result in pneumonia and other infections, so it is very important to follow your doctor’s advice.

Flu vaccines can help prevent the flu, but they are not always effective. They only contain selected strains of the flu, and if you are subjected to a different strain, you could still catch it. If you choose not to get the flu shot, staying as healthy as possible will help reduce your chances of becoming infected. And if someone in your household gets the flu, you can ask your doctor for antiviral medication to help keep you from getting it.

While having a cold is unpleasant, having the flu is usually much worse. Knowing the symptoms can help you decide when you need medical attention and when you can successfully treat yourself. But if you are in doubt, it’s better to visit the doctor just to be sure.

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