Cold or Flu?

Written by: 
Michelle Roberts, medical writer

The common cold and fluA viral infection affecting the respiratory system. are viral infections that affect the nose, throat and lungs. They are very common and share similar symptoms, including a cough, a runny or blocked nose, sneezing and a sore throat. It can be hard to tell them apart, but fluA viral infection affecting the respiratory system. tends to be more intense and can cause serious health problems, unlike a cold.

Symptoms of flu

Symptoms that suggest that an infectionInvasion by organisms that may be harmful, for example bacteria or parasites. is fluA viral infection affecting the respiratory system. rather than a cold include:

  • High fever, usually 39ºC (102.2ºF) or above
  • Muscle pains
  • Chills - feeling cold and shivering, often accompanied by paleness
  • Extreme tiredness
  • Loss of appetite.

Babies and small children with fluA viral infection affecting the respiratory system. can also have nausea, vomiting and diarrhoeaWhen bowel evacuation happens more often than usual, or where the faeces are abnormally liquid. and may be off their food and drowsy, unresponsive, limp or ‘floppy’.

A cold usually lasts only a few days, where as the symptoms of fluA viral infection affecting the respiratory system. may last a week or more.

Treating colds and flu

The basic advice is the same for colds and fluA viral infection affecting the respiratory system.:

  • Stay at home
  • Rest
  • Drink plenty of fluids
  • Use a tissue for coughs and sneezes, then dispose of it and wash your hands.

With fluA viral infection affecting the respiratory system., it is also best to avoid close contact with others to prevent them from getting sick.

Medicines

Simple painkillers such as paracetamol or ibuprofen can relieve the symptoms of headache and muscleTissue made up of cells that can contract to bring about movement. pain and help control the fever.
Medical authorities advise against giving aspirin to children who have fluA viral infection affecting the respiratory system.-like symptoms, particularly fever, because of the rare risk of developing Reye’s syndrome.

Cough medicines containing honey, lemon or glycerine, but no active drug are often preferred for children aged six or younger.[1]

For children older than six, and for adults, over-the-counter cough and cold remedies containing cough suppressants (antitussives), drugs that bring up mucus from the respiratory system (expectorants), nasal decongestants and antihistamines may be tried.

Antiviral medicines can be prescribed to reduce the severity and length of time that fluA viral infection affecting the respiratory system. symptoms last. 

See also Treating cold and fluA viral infection affecting the respiratory system. symptoms at home.

Complications of flu

Most people recover from fluA viral infection affecting the respiratory system. without complications, but a few groups are at higher risk of developing problems. Vulnerable groups include older people, young children and people with chronicA disease of long duration generally involving slow changes. health conditions such as asthma, diabetes or heart disease.

The most common complicationA condition that is linked to, or is a consequence of, another disease or procedure. of fluA viral infection affecting the respiratory system. is a secondary bacterial chest infectionInvasion by organisms that may be harmful, for example bacteria or parasites. in addition to the initial viral infectionInvasion by organisms that may be harmful, for example bacteria or parasites.. A course of antibioticsMedication to treat infections caused by microbes (organisms that can't be seen with the naked eye), such as bacteria. will usually cure this, but the infectionInvasion by organisms that may be harmful, for example bacteria or parasites. sometimes develops into pneumoniaInflammation of one or both lungs..

If you develop any of the following symptoms after fluA viral infection affecting the respiratory system., it is important to seek medical help promptly:

  • High fever and shaking chills
  • Chest pain with each breath
  • Coughing that produces thick, yellow-green mucus.

Prevention of flu

Flu vaccines are available each year.

In many countries annual immunisation is recommended for people who:

  • Are aged 65 or older
  • Are living in a residential/nursing home
  • Are the main carer for an elderly or disabled person whose welfare may be at risk if the carer falls ill
  • Are over 6 months old and have a chronicA disease of long duration generally involving slow changes. condition such as a heart problem, asthma, kidney disease or diabetes
  • Have a weakened immune systemThe organs specialised to fight infection. due to disease or treatment such as steroid medication or cancerAbnormal, uncontrolled cell division resulting in a malignant tumour that may invade surrounding tissues or spread to distant parts of the body. treatment
  • Have chronicA disease of long duration generally involving slow changes. liverA large abdominal organ that has many important roles including the production of bile and clotting factors, detoxification, and the metabolism of proteins, carbohydrates and fats. disease
  • Work in close contact with poultry - for example, working in areas where poultry are kept for rearing or egg production, handling or catching live poultry, sorting eggs in poultry houses, or slaughtering and cleaning poultry.

 For further information about Flu, click here

References: 

1. ‘Children’s over-the-counter cough and cold medicines: New Advice’. British Medicines and Healthcare Products Regulatory Agency (MHRA), 2009. http://www.mhra.gov.uk/Safetyinformation/Safetywarningsalertsandrecalls/.... Accessed 28 August 2009