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Uh oh. You’ve gotten sick and you’re coughing a bit. You also have a stuffy nose and you’re sneezing too. So, do you have a cold? Or do you have the flu? And does it make a difference in how you should treat it depending on which one you have?


sick dog with scarf and head pack

The Difference between the Flu and a Cold

If you’re getting sick, it is important to know if you have the flu or if you just have a cold. Knowing which one you have will help you decide how you’re going to treat it; should you call off work and stay home, or should you just power through? While the flu and a cold have many similarities when it comes to symptoms, there are some important differences too.

The first indication that you have the flu is to see how quickly you went from feeling okay to feeling like you were run over by the sick truck. If it was gradual and occurred over several days, you likely have a cold. On the other hand, if you went to bed feeling okay and woke up wondering who hit you with a baseball bat, you likely have the flu. Flu symptoms come on very quickly and hit you like a ton of bricks.

The second thing to look for in telling the difference between the flu and a cold is the presence of a fever and chills. While you can get a fever from a cold, it isn’t common. This goes for chills as well. Fever and chills are both very common in the flu and come in waves while you’re sick. You’ll feel cold and want to burrow under every blanket you own, but the thermometer will tell you that you have a 100-degree fever. Of course, it is important to know that some people with the flu don’t get fevers.

The third thing to look for is a headache. While you might get a headache from dealing with someone whining about a cold, rarely does having a cold give you one. On the other hand, people with flu symptoms often have headaches.

It is important to note that throwing up is not a common symptom of the flu. Some children may get symptoms of nausea, but adults usually don’t. Generally, if you’re throwing up, you have a stomach virus or some other digestive issue. A stomach virus is not the same thing as the flu, even though people think they are.


doctor dog treating flu 

How to Treat the Flu?

Unfortunately, because the flu is caused by a virus, there is no easy way to treat it. Usually, you’re better off just treating the symptoms. Take acetaminophen for your headache and make sure to stay hydrated. Drink hot teas or lemonade to help soothe your cough. Stay bundled up and don’t go out unless you absolutely have to. This will help prevent the flu from spreading.

You can also use a humidifier and add a few drops of essential oils to help clear up your sinuses and ease your cough. The hydration in the air will also soothe your breathing passages and make it slightly less miserable to breathe.


sick dog with teddy bear

So, what is the Flu?

The flu is caused by a virus that attacks very quickly. Here is a list of common flu symptoms:

  • Aches and pains in joints and muscles
  • Deep hacking cough
  • Excessive fatigue, soreness, and tiredness
  • Fever
  • Headache
  • Runny or stuffy nose
  • Sore throat

While these symptoms often make you feel horrible, the worst of them usually passes in about 48 to 72 hours, with full recovery taking about two weeks.

You are also infectious, or able to give other people the flu before you actually exhibit any symptoms and remain infectious usually until your fever breaks or the worst of the symptoms go away.


sick puppy with cold pack on head

Flu Complications

Unfortunately, there are groups of people who are at a higher risk of developing severe life-threatening complications from the flu. High-risk groups include young children, especially those under the age of two, older people over the age of 65, pregnant women, and people with various chronic diseases. Some medical conditions that place a person in the high-risk group are:

  • Asthma
  • Blood disorders like sickle cell disease
  • Cancer patients
  • Chronic lung diseases, including cystic fibrosis
  • Endocrine disorders such as diabetes mellitus
  • Heart diseases like coronary artery disease or congenital heart disease
  • Immune system conditions due to medication or diseases like HIV or AIDS
  • Kidney and liver disorders including hepatitis
  • Neurological conditions including a history of strokes, muscular dystrophy, or spinal cord injuries
  • People who are extremely obese with a BMI of over 40

Complications range from moderately severe such as a sinus infection or pneumonia to more severe complications that require hospitalization. Flu complications can even lead to death if not treated correctly. Some of the more severe complications from the flu include sepsis – caused by the immune system reacting violently and triggering a hyper-inflammatory response – and inflammations of the brain, heart, or other non-cardiac muscle tissue.

Pneumonia is caused when the flu virus migrates from your upper respiratory tract down to the lungs. As the viral infection takes hold, the air sacs fill up with fluid, leaving patients feeling like they are always short of breath. If left untreated, this viral pneumonia can develop into bacterial pneumonia as well.

If you are in a high-risk group and you start to develop symptoms that are outside of the normal flu, such as sudden dizziness, severe vomiting, or trouble breathing, contact your doctor right away. Additionally, if you have an infant who exhibits any signs of dehydration when they have the flu, get in touch with your pediatrician immediately.

We at Think Crucial wish you the best this flu season and remind you that getting your annual flu shot is the best way to prevent catching the flu at all.



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