You’re feeling tired, achy, can’t sleep, coughing and maybe have a runny nose to boot. It’s that time of year for those pesky bugs that have us singing the blues and wondering if our symptoms are those of the cold or the flu. Both the common cold and the flu are respiratory illnesses. Each is caused by a different virus but result in similar symptoms making it hard to tell the conditions apart. Here’s a primer on the difference between these two ailments and what to do to send them on their merry way.
In general, the flu causes greater complications with more intense symptoms which come on rapidly. These include bodily aches and pain, sore throat, fatigue, fever, chills, dry cough, sore throat, stuffy nose, sneezing and watery eyes and an overall miserable feeling. Symptoms of the common cold are typically milder than those of influenza and usually characterized by sneezing, a stuffy or runny nose, scratchy throat, and watery eyes. A cold will usually run its course, leaving you tired and maybe a bit cranky, but symptom-free. You can be vaccinated against the flu but there is no vaccine (yet) which prevents the common cold. In addition, there are antiviral medications to treat the flu. Both the flu and a cold can lead to a bacterial infection resulting in sinusitis, bronchitis, pneumonia or an ear infection which could require antibiotic treatment. Unfortunately, complications of the flu, such as pneumonia or bacterial infections, can require hospitalization.
What Can You Do to Avoid These Unwelcome Winter Visitors?
The viruses that cause flu and cold are typically spread when infected individuals cough, sneeze, or talk, dispersing droplets through the air, and the virus can also be picked by touching an object which has viruses on it. The U.S. flu season can start as early as October and continue into May.
Avoid big groups of people – For you introverts out there, this is an easy one. The more people you expose yourself to, the more likely you are to get the flu. The flu spreads fast in confined groups of people. This is just good life advice, but stay away from sick people and stay away from strangers who are sneezing and coughing.
Please wash your hands like you mean it! – The flu can live on surfaces for 24 hours, so make sure that you are washing your hands as much as you can, especially before you cook food that you are going to eat or after using the restroom. When you wash your hands wash them with warm water for at least 20 secs and make sure to dry them before leaving the sink area.
It's not a bad idea to carry around a bottle of hand sanitizer – It might be considered rude to wash your hands immediately after shaking someone's hand, but you can probably inconspicuously apply hand sanitizer when they aren't looking. Make sure you aren't sneezing into your hands, always sneeze into a napkin or your elbow. Also, use hand sanitizer after touching things other people are touching a lot, such as doorknobs or light switches.
Strengthen Your Immune System
If your immune system is sleeping at the wheel, your chances of getting sick go up a lot. So, make sure you are getting enough sleep, exercising at least 30 minutes, 3 days a week, and consider taking a multivitamin.
You are what you eat – Avoid eating out, just because you are doing everything you can to make sure you don't get sick doesn't mean everyone working in your favorite burger joint is doing the same. Stick to healthy, nutrient-dense foods as much as possible.
Get your shots – The flu changes every year, so every year, you need to get a flu shot. The flu shot lessens your chance of getting sick by 40-60 percent. It takes about two weeks for the flu shot to be active, but even if you do get the flu, the flu shot can make you get better fast and be less sick during the process.
Keep it clean – Wipe down surfaces in your house, such as counters, doorknobs, light switches, and shared telephones if you still have one for some reason. If someone in your home does become sick, it's time to quarantine them in their own section of the house. It's not overkill to wear surgical masks and gloves when attending to them.
What if the Worst Happens?
If you get the flu, get to a doctor right away. There is no cure for the flu, but the doctor can prescribe antiviral medication like Tamiflu to help you get back on your feet faster with an easier road to recovery.
This is a lot of information to take in, but it can really help to keep you healthy. Obviously, no one can do all of these things all of the time. You can't walk around in a hazmat suit and bath in hand sanitizer all of the time, but if you can find a few of these things and implement them into your life, you will have a leg up on the flu and be ready to beat flu season into submission.
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