Like it or not, it is cold and flu season. We’re more likely to catch them at this time of year because the viruses that cause us to get sick are more stable at cooler temperatures and lower humidity. We also spend more time indoors during the winter months.
Whether you’re sick with a flu or a cold, it’s good to know the difference (although it can be difficult to tell them apart) so you can take more appropriate measures to help yourself feel better.
Cold or Flu?
When and how it starts
Generally, colds start with a dry, scratchy throat. It can take a day or two before you realize you are sick.
Flu, comes on suddenly. Along with extreme fatigue come chills and fever, aches and pains and headache, you know you are sick right away.
What are the symptoms?
- Cold: sneezing, runny nose and nasal congestion, coughing and chest discomfort. Rarely a fever.
- Flu: muscle aches, headache and fatigue, coughing and chest discomfort, which can become severe. You will have a fever, which can become severe.
- Cold: Can lead to sinus congestion or earache.
- Flu: Can lead to pneumonia and respiratory issues, and worsen a current chronic respiratory condition.
How to treat?
Because both are virus based, you can only treat the symptoms. Treatment for both is similar.
- Rest – listen to your body, even if it wants to sleep all day
- Soothe a sore throat with a saltwater gargle – 1/4 to 1/2 teaspoon salt dissolved in an 8-ounce glass of warm water
- Stay home from work or school both for your own health and to avoid infecting others
- Drink plenty of fluids such as water, tea or watery soups (e.g. Chicken soup)
- Avoid excess sugars and fats, caffeine and alcohol
- Try supplementing with vitamin C and echinacea. Some studies show that zinc lozenges or syrup reduce the length of a cold by one day, especially when taken within 24 hours of the first signs and symptoms.
- Increase humidity levels
- Avoid cigarette smoke
Preventing flu and colds
- Wash your hands thoroughly and frequently with soap and water; use hand sanitizer.
- Avoid contact with others who are sick.
- Eat well, exercise and stay hydrated in order to keep your immune system strong
- Keep your surroundings germ free, for example, at the office, use a disinfectant on phones, keyboards, anywhere where germs might be waiting!
- Flu spreads easily wherever people congregate – in child care centers, schools, office buildings, auditoriums and public transportation. By avoiding crowds during peak flu season, you reduce your chances of infection.
- Flu can be much more severe, especially for those older or with certain medical conditions that compromise their immune system. Remember, your best defence against flu is to get the annual flu vaccine!
To learn more and to find out where to get your flu vaccine, visit Canada.ca/Flu