Cold and flu has become as inseparable a pair as bacon and eggs or ham and cheese. Even the local pharmacy reinforces the image of the two going hand-in-hand with its “cold and flu” aisle.
However, these two illnesses have some very distinct differences, according to private family practice physician Dr. Albert Levy. Colds, according to Levy are upper respiratory infections caused by a virus that usually lasts between two to five days.
Most normal, healthy people a cold will go away even without medicine or treatment by a doctor as long as the body is allowed to heal, said Levy. However, people whose immune system has been compromised by HIV, radiation or chemotherapy can develop pneumonia from a cold that is untreated.
The typical symptoms are a runny, stuffed nose and a low-grade temperature. “Sneezing is the classic symptom of a cold,” said Levy. In addition to these symptoms, you may also experience a sore throat, cough, and body aches.
The most common way to catch a cold is contact with someone who has one. “Receiving droplets from someone who coughs, or shaking the hand of someone who just touched their nose would cause you to catch a cold,” said Levy. “However, if you are tired, depressed, or overworked, that can also bring on a cold. These conditions cause the immunity to be lowered and the virus takes advantage of that.”
Levy offered the following tips to help minimize the effects of a cold:
— Eat chicken soup. Levy said that according to scientists, there is an ingredient in chicken soup, which has not been identified, that is beneficial to fighting a cold.
— Drink tea and other hot liquids.
— Get plenty of rest. Activity prolongs colds, because it tires the body, making it more prone to catch a bug.
— Don’t drink alcohol. It makes you feel worse.
— Drink plenty of water. A cold cause you to breathe rapidly, and this causes you to lose more water.
The flu is a respiratory illness that is caused by one of three strains of virus from the orthomyxoviridae family of viruses and lasts between five to seven days. Symptoms include:
— Fever of 102 degrees or above
— Sore throat
— Chest discomfort
— Full body ache
According to Levy, normal, healthy individuals don’t need an antibiotic to recover from the flu. However, people over 65 years in age can develop pneumonia from the flu, so they should get a flu shot in the fall to minimize the impact of the illness if they do contract it. Other candidates for a flu shot include those with chronic medical conditions like diabetes or high blood pressure and children between the ages of 6 months to 2 years old.
There are some important points to remember about flu shots:
— Don’t get a shot if you don’t feel well. This will make it seem as though you contracted the virus from the shot. Get one when you are in good health.
— Get a flu shot every year. Each year the strain of flu virus varies, since the injection is made from the current strain, the shot is different each year.
— Don’t get a shot if you have an egg allergy, because the injection is made from eggs.
Levy said that because a cold and flu are two distinct illnesses, there are some important differences between the two that you should keep in mind:
— Temperature: With a cold, you have a low-grade temperature, but with the flu, temperatures can reach 102 degrees or more.
— Localized versus widespread: A cold usually remains localized in the nose and rarely spreads to the lower respiratory system while a flu causes overall discomfort including headache, sore throat, and generalized body ache.
— Duration: A cold is of shorter duration, lasting between two to five days; while the flu lasts between five to seven days.