Media Contact: Keith.O’Connor@baystatehealth.org, 413-794-7656
SPRINGFIELD – You’ve been sneezing up a storm for two days, you feel absolutely lousy, and now you’re starting to cough. Since colds and flu are both highly contagious viral infections that share many of the same symptoms, you wonder, “Do I have the flu or just a cold?”
“Flu symptoms are much more severe and can appear relatively abruptly such as the sudden onset of a significant headache coupled with chills and a high fever that can last for several days, extreme exhaustion and muscle aches, and a dry cough,” said Dr. Sarah Haessler of the Infectious Diseases Division at Baystate Medical Center.
The common cold is usually an upper respiratory infection accompanied by a runny nose, sneezing, sore throat and an often hacking cough. Unlike the flu – which can lead to more serious problems such as bronchitis or pneumonia, especially for those at high risk such as the very young, the elderly, and those with existing chronic conditions – a cold normally does not result in any severe complications or death.
“It is important to be able to recognize the difference between a cold or flu to avoid an unnecessary trip to your doctor or local emergency room. As we’ve all heard many times before, there is no cure for the common cold other than treating its symptoms with over-the-counter medications,” said Dr. Haessler.
However, the Baystate infectious disease specialist noted that being able to identify flu symptoms more clearly can help you seek treatment from your doctor in the first 24- to 48-hours, the short time period in which antiviral medications can be prescribed and administered to reduce the length and severity of your flu.
You should see your doctor if your cold lasts more than two weeks, or seek immediate emergency care if you have trouble breathing, chest pain, purple or blue discoloration of the lips, vomiting and the inability to keep liquids down resulting in dehydration, which is often characterized by dizziness when standing and the lack of urination.
Viruses and bacteria, the germs that cause respiratory infections leading to colds or flu, are spread from person to person in the form of droplets when someone who is sick coughs, sneezes or even just talks to someone. Some viruses can also be spread when a person touches a surface with the virus on it, such as a doorknob, and then touches their nose or mouth.
To help keep the germs away, be sure to wash your hands frequently, especially before eating or touching your eyes, nose or mouth; don’t share foods, beverages or utensils; and don’t share things such as towels, toys, lipstick and other items that may be contaminated with germs.
“Whether a cold or flu, be sure to get plenty of rest and drink plenty of liquids, especially water,” said Dr. Haessler.
For more information on Baystate Medical Center, visit baystatehealth.org/bmc.