It's a cold! It's the flu! It's cold and flu season!

Sick woman

Faster than a sneezing toddler. More powerful than a throbbing migraine. Able to leap from person to person with a single cough. It’s cold and flu season! The trick is to figure out if you’ve got a cold, the flu or a sinus infection.

Christine Inguanzo, MD, a primary care provider with CHI Health Clinic, explains: “While colds and influenza are both respiratory viral illnesses, they are caused by different viruses. A cold usually does not involve a fever, while influenza is typically associated with a fever over 101 degrees.”

The common cold or any upper respiratory infection typically starts with a runny nose, sore throat and a cough. It lasts up to 10 days, but most people start to feel better on day six or seven.

“If you’re not feeling better by day 10, or there is a change about day eight with a worsening cough, see your physician. It could be a bacterial sinus infection,” Dr. Inguanzo said.

In addition to sore throat, congestion and cough, flu symptoms include high fever, body aches, headaches and occasional vomiting.

“Most people seek treatment the first day because they just feel terrible,” said Dr. Inguanzo.

Medication can be used to treat – not cure – the flu, but it must be started within the first 72 hours of symptoms. The best way to avoid getting the flu is by getting a vaccination each year. Since both the flu and colds are caused by a virus, they cannot be treated with antibiotics.

Here are symptoms that require prompt medical attention:

  • Difficulty breathing
  • Fever over 103 degrees, or lasting over three days
  • Asthmatics who may have the flu –  the flu may cause more frequent asthma attacks
  • If you are pregnant and think you have the flu – the flu can cause pre-term labor and premature birth
  • If you have vomiting and cannot keep down fluids – this can lead to dehydration, especially in young children or the elderly

Christine Inguanzo, MD

Family Medicine