Many people are aware of the cold and flu season, which starts in October, peaks around February and continues through March. Most of the time, these illnesses run their courses and people regain their health within days or a few weeks at most. Although often confused for each other, the cold and flu illnesses are quite different, and each of their individual symptoms and prevention tips are described below.

Symptoms of the Common Cold

The specific characteristics of the common cold are stated below.

  • Fevers are rarely present
  • Headaches are not common
  • Mild aches and pains
  • Very little weakness or fatigue
  • Extreme exhaustion is not common
  • Stuffy noses are common
  • Sneezing episodes are likely
  • Sore throats are common
  • Chest discomfort is likely
  • Mild to moderate cough is common

Symptoms of the Flu

The flu, which is also known as seasonal influenza, has a variety of symptoms that distinguish it from the common cold, and include:

  • High fevers that last three or four days
  • Really bad headaches
  • Severe aches and pains
  • Weakness and fatigue that last for two to three weeks
  • Extreme exhaustion
  • Occasional stuffy noses
  • Occasional sneezing episodes
  • Occasional sore throats
  • Severe chest discomforts
  • Severe coughs

Preventative Measures during the Cold and Flu Season

While there are no real measures that people can take to prevent them from acquiring the common cold, there are some effective tips that people can take to prevent them from acquiring the flu. The flu prevention tips outlined by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention include to:

  • Get vaccinated against flu once every year.
  • Cover the nose and mouth when sneezing.
  • Wash hands with soap and hot water. If that’s not possible, use alcohol based hand sanitizers.
  • To prevent the spread of germs, avoid touching the eyes, nose, or mouth.
  • Stay away from people infected with flu, as much as possible.
  • If afflicted with the flu virus, avoid contact with other people until you have fully recovered.
  • Use antiviral medications if afflicted with the flu virus. These remedies help in reducing the duration of illness and prevent the complications associated with it.

Types of Flu Vaccinations

For the most part, flu vaccinations provide people with excellent, safe protection against the three main causes of the flu: influenza A (H1N1) viruses, influenza A (H3N2) viruses, and influenza B viruses. A flu vaccination is offered as either a nasal-spray flu vaccine or a flu shot. There are three types of flu shots available, and they include: the regular flu shot for people who are older than 6 months, the intradermal flu shot for people who are between 18 and 64 years of age, and the high-dose flu shot for people who are older than 65.

Possible Side-Effects and Reactions of the Flu Shot

Although the flu shot is considered to be safe and effective, it may cause some possible side-effects and reactions. They include: soreness, swelling or redness over the injection site, low-grade fevers, nausea, fatigue, and severe allergic reactions. All individuals are also encouraged to report their adverse side effects and reactions to the Vaccine Adverse Event Report System.

All in all, the cold and the flu are common illnesses, and each of them has its own set of symptoms, side-effects, and/or vaccinations. It is beneficial for individuals of all ages to know and recognize each of those unique sets. Overall awareness of them not only enhances people’s knowledge of the common cold and the flu, it also enables them to be well-informed, proactive residents of their communities.

Author:  Michelle Holincheck, FNP

For more cold and flu information, visit Careworks.