Is It a Cold or the Flu?
- Fever Might Mean FluBurning up? You probably have the flu if you have a fever—at least 100 degrees—that lasts three to four days. Fevers are rare in people with colds and are usually milder. Call your doctor if you have a fever higher than 102 degrees, or if your fever lasts a long time.
- Notice Your NoseIf your symptoms are primarily in the nose, it’s a cold. A schnoz running like a faucet is a telltale sign. (Check the color of your mucus. Yellow or green? That’s a cold.) A stuffy or runny nose can happen with the flu, too—it’s just rarer. If a runny nose doesn’t get better within 10 to 14 days, see your doctor. You might have a bacterial sinus infection called sinusitis, which should promptly respond to a course of antibiotics.
- Pay Attention to TimelineThe flu is fast and furious. Influenza hits you suddenly, with chills, a fever, and body aches. If your sickness worsened bit by bit, it’s probably a cold. With either illness, call your doctor if you're feeling better and then suddenly get much worse, with nausea, vomiting, high fever, shaking, or chills. These could be signs of a more serious problem.
- Forgoing Food?Loss of appetite is a sign of the flu. Drink lots of fluids and clear soups if you have either illness. This will loosen mucus and prevent dehydration.
- A Sleepy SignNodding off more than your cat? Fatigue and exhaustion signal the flu. Exhaustion will usually be worse at the beginning of the illness, but fatigue can last for weeks. Cold symptoms usually go away after a week at most.
- Treating That CoughA cough plays on both teams. But a dry cough is usually a sign of the flu. If you have both a cough and a stuffy or runny nose, sustained-release pseudoephedrine (Sudafed®) can help. Avoid the new nonsedating antihistamines, which don’t help a cough. If you’re coughing up mucus, choose an expectorant instead of a cough suppressant.
- For Flu, See Your Doctor, StatPretty sure you have the flu? Get thee to a doctor! Your doctor can prescribe antiviral medicine that will make your symptoms better and shorten the amount of time you’re sick. You’ll need to take the medicine within 48 hours of when symptoms appear for it to work well.
- Take a Sick DayHere’s your free pass to play hooky. Stay away from work to avoid passing your germs on to coworkers. You’re contagious for up to five days after flu symptoms appear. A cold is most contagious in the first two to three days. Plus, rest helps your immune system fight the viruses.
Cold or Flu: Which Is It?