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Is It The Flu Or Is It Just a Cold?


Flu season is in full swing, and preparation is your key to staying healthy. Unfortunately, despite your best efforts, the flu can still strike. If it does, early detection and appropriate responses are essential to treating this draining bug. One problem: How do you know if you actually have the flu?

“There are many infections that could present [themselves] like the flu,” Sherif Mossad, M.D., staff physician in Cleveland Clinic’s Department of Infectious Disease, told “Many things in their early stage can be mistaken for the flu, but there are other factors that need to be accounted.”

Dr. Mossad said the only way to know for certain if your sickness is the flu is through a flu test, but there are some identifiable signs that could mean you need to see a doctor, and some signs that you likely don’t have the flu.

“Some [similar conditions] occur in the summer, which is an atypical time for influenza to occur in the Northern Hemisphere,” he said. “In late summer, flu has not circulated yet. Usually it starts in younger people, in schools, in early-mid fall until April… with the peak coming in late December to late January.”

Time of year and the corresponding weather conditions are just some of the many ways to distinguish between the flu and other conditions. Click through for some easy tips to identify a cold and the flu.

Signs of the flu start with a simple acronym: FACTS, said Dr. Mossad. The ‘F’ stands for fever. “Fever would be very high with the flu, but nonexistent with a cold,”  Of course, a high fever doesn’t automatically mean the flu. “You can have pneumonia, a severe urinary tract infection, [etc.],” All these things can cause high fever, but they have different symptoms.”

If you’re deciding between the flu and a cold, a fever means you likely have the flu. Aches are another likely sign that your discomfort is flu-related, and not just a cold. While this might occur with a cold, the key is that this symptom occurs right away, and not after days of already feeling sick.

“High fever and headaches at the onset of flu are likely symptoms,”  Because chills can be the result of a fever — a sign not associated with colds — this symptom helps differentiate between a cold and the flu.

Chills, along with a high fever, are an important sign that you need to see a doctor before your condition worsens, according to the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services.

If a cold keeps you up at night and disrupts your quality of sleep, it’s likely that tiredness is a symptom of your condition.  ,But there is always some overlap. Still, like aches and pains, a sudden onset of fatigue is more likely associated with the flu than a cold. Similar to other symptoms that occur with both colds and flu, timing and intensity are important in distinguishing between the two conditions.

Although you might keep the tissues handy if you’ve been diagnosed with the flu, nasally symptoms like sneezing more likely mean you have a cold. Make sure to look for thick, yellow or green nasal discharge. This can worsen as your cold progresses, according to the Mayo Clinic.

Even though they sound like opposites, a runny or stuffy nose likely means you have a cold rather than the flu. While these symptoms might also be present with the flu, other symptoms like a cough or fever are much more likely, according to the Mayo Clinic.

Even if you have the worst cold in the world, it probably won’t feel as bad as having the flu. If you aren’t sure which symptoms are exclusive to a cold or the flu, determining how intense they are can be an easy way to tell which condition you have.

And even though several cold and flu symptoms overlap, if they appear abruptly with extreme intensity, you likely have the flu. The flu is a serious and deadly condition. So, while a cold might feel awful, it doesn’t match the intensity of the flu. Flu symptoms are incapacitating and intense, but cold symptoms are better described as uncomfortable or annoying.

A runny nose might not sound like fun, and a sore throat might sound even worse, but it probably wouldn’t stop you from seeing your favorite band in concert. Flu symptoms, on the other hand, could make just getting out of bed feel like a chore. Colds are treated with a decongestant or ibuprofen while sore throats can be treated with inhaling vapor.

These over-the-counter remedies can do wonders for your cold, and help get you through the day. If taking these makes you feel better, you likely don’t have the flu, which would require much more intense drugs.

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