People with the flu often experience fever, chills, cough, sore throat, runny or stuffy nose, muscle or body aches, headaches and/or fatigue, according to the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Some — more commonly children — may also have vomiting and/or diarrhea.
They all sound like a bad cold. Especially in the winter months, it can be easy to mix up cold and flu symptoms.
Flu or cold?
According to Dr. Rachael Lee, assistant professor in the University of Alabama-Birmingham’s Division of Infectious Diseases, there are certain ways to tell the difference. “Colds are typically around your nose and face, and you have a sore throat,” she said. “Your symptoms are more gradual in onset, and you may have a low-grade fever but not high fevers. It can also cause cough but does not have shortness of breath.”
As for the flu, “it is pretty much all of a sudden: You will have fevers, body aches, sore throat, coughs, and then you can have other symptoms as well, such as shortness of breath. You can feel dehydrated, meaning you may be dizzy, and you may be a little bit confused.” You may also get a bad headache – which typically does not happen with a cold.
Those who are at higher risk for developing flu-related complications should take extra precautions when they feel symptoms coming on.
The CDC says these include children under 5 years old, particularly those under 2. Also at high risk are adults 65 and older, pregnant women, residents of long-term care facilities and people with medical conditions including weakened immune systems, asthma, heart disease and diabetes. Seek immediate medical advice or head straight for the doctor or emergency room if you are worried. Don’t wait with your symptoms. Just be prepared to wait at the doctor’s office and the ER. Obviously, if you are dizzy – never drive yourself.
Individuals with minor flu or flu-like symptoms should refrain from going to the emergency room and instead call their primary health care providers, to avoid over stressing community resources. Listen to your doctor, but if you aren’t sure – always take extra precautions.
The Flu is fierce and it can turn dangerous very quickly.
You should seek care in the emergency department when you are feeling dehydrated, you are not keeping any fluids down, as well as if you are feeling really short of breath and cannot catch your air.
Prevention key to protection
The most important thing is prevention: avoiding anyone who is sick, if possible. This might include avoiding public areas where you or your children could get infected.
Also, clean your living and work areas, avoid crowds, stay home from work or school if you are sick.
Here is a chart that might help.