Cold Vs. Flu: How to Tell the Difference

Stuffy nose? Sneezy? Body aches?

It might be a cold…..or the flu. Both illnesses are caused by viruses, affect your breathing system and typically go away on their own. But flu can become much more serious, especially for people with fragile immune systems.

“A common cold you would, essentially, never die from,” said Mark Gendreau, MD, Chief Medical Officer of Beverly and Addison Gilbert Hospitals and an emergency medicine physician. “However you do run a risk of dying when you catch influenza. It can create a lot of problems in your body.”

Those problems include developing pneumonia or myocarditis, which is inflammation and damage of the heart muscle.

Some telltale signs you might have the flu include symptoms that come on quickly and are extremely severe. Fever and a whole-body feeling of illness are two other typical signs.

“A common cold is more of an inconvenience,” Gendreau said. “It weakens your immune system but not to the extent that influenza does.”

Fortunately, with rest, hydration and proper self-care, both a cold and the flu should go away on their own. But see your doctor if your symptoms aren’t improving, if your symptoms return or if you have difficulty breathing, chest or stomach pain, dizziness or lightheadedness or severe vomiting because these could be signs of more serious complications.

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*The content on this website is for informational purposes only and is not medical advice. Please consult a physician regarding your specific medical condition, diagnosis and/or treatment.

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