Is It a Cold or the Flu?

It’s that time of the year again when people are always asking each other, “Did you get your flu shot?” However, not only is it flu season, but it’s also pretty common to catch a cold too. In fact, Adults have an average of 2-3 colds per year, and children have even more. Most people get colds in the winter and spring, but it is possible to get a cold any time of the year. 

While many will look to antibiotics for symptom management, both flu and the common cold are viral infections and are not impacted at all by antibiotic medications. On top of that, it is important to know if you have the flu or cold because certain medication like Tamiflu doesn’t work for the latter. 

Neither virus is enjoyable, but here’s how to tell if you caught the flu or if it’s a cold. Just ask yourself the 5 following questions:

1. What are your symptoms? 

Flu symptoms may come up abruptly whereas the common cold may feel more gradual, beginning with a sore throat, followed by congestion and perhaps a cough. The flu, however, may involve symptoms such as fever, chills, fatigue, etc. You can refer to this chart to track the symptoms you’re feeling and which illness it may relay to.  

While the common cold has just about 200 viruses, the flu can only be caused by strands A and B of the influenza virus. Therefore, they are definitely not one and the same. 

2. How long have you been feeling sick?

Since the symptoms of the common cold typically come on gradually, they also progress slowly for about a week. Whereas flu symptoms come on much more rapidly and with less warning.

3. Is it time to visit the doctor?

If you’re having a difficult time determining whether you have a common cold or the flu, it may be time to visit your doctor before things get worse. There are rapid lab tests your doctor may administer that can tell if a person has the flu. If you do have the flu, you may also be able to obtain a prescription to shorten the length and severity.

4. Should you use an online doctor (telehealth/telemedicine)? 

Until recently,  most have to go see a doctor to get diagnosed in person. Companies like MDLive, Teladoc, and LemonAid allow you to skip the trip and get care online. 

This, however, does come with many drawbacks. One of which is the ability to administer the rapid lab test to accurately determine if you have the flu. Because of this, many patients get overprescribed for medications they otherwise may not need or no medications at all. 

5. How to manage symptoms with over-the-counter medications?

Whether you have a common cold or the flu, be sure to drink plenty of water, pain relievers such as Tylenol (acetaminophen) or Advil (ibuprofen) can also help. 

To relieve congestion you may want to take a decongestant like Sudafed (pseudoephedrine) or nasal steroids like Flonase (fluticasone). Be sure to consult with your doctor to make sure these medications are right for you. 

Don’t have health insurance or have a heavy co-pay? With Mira, you can actually afford to go to the doctor for only $99 copay, with or without insurance.

Get smarter everyday

Meaningful articles delivered to your mailbox!

Thank you! Your submission has been received!
Oops! Something went wrong while submitting the form.