Is it a cold or the flu?

During the winter months, doctors advise us to avoid crowds and people battling colds, wash our hands regularly and get plenty of fluids and rest. But how do we know if we have a cold or the flu?

“The onset of the flu tends to be much more rapid,” says Dr. Michael Kouimelis, a family medicine physician with OSF Medical Group. “Whereas the onset of a cold tends to gradually come on, symptoms such as fever, chills, body aches and headache are more common with the flu. Less common with a cold, although they can be present. Sometimes, young children will also experience some nausea, vomiting or diarrhea with the flu, but you don’t see that much with adults. Symptoms such as congestion and nasal drainage tend to be more common with the cold than the flu.”

Kouimelis says rarely do colds require a visit to your physician. Flu, however, is a different story,  particularly if there are complications.

“Complications with pneumonia for people that have congestive heart failure or other heart or lung diseases can make them more likely to have a worsening of their symptoms,” he says.

Tips to help ease flu symptoms include staying home and getting plenty of rest, drink plenty of fluids, use an over-the-counter medication to ease aches and fevers, an expectorant can help thin out mucus, take a hot shower and breath in the steam, run a humidifier, and try nasal saline sprays or drops.

If you experience symptoms such as earache, pain in your face with thick green or yellow mucus, sore throat or cough that won’t go away, wheezing, shortness of breath or vomiting, call your doctor.