The cold and flu are both respiratory illnesses with similar symptoms and both are infections caused by viruses. The flu is caused by the influenza virus. A vaccine is produced for the most common strain of the influenza virus each year. While this vaccine is not guaranteed to be one hundred percent effective, it is still incredibly effective and does dramatically reduce the severity of a patient's illness should they still contract the flu. The cold is not as severe, while the flu can be life-threatening. An estimated 200,000 individuals are hospitalized with the flu and 36,000 of those die of the flu every year in the United States.
Distinguishing the signs between these two conditions is an important part of the healing process and can help prevent hospitalizations.
Runny Nose Or Congestion
While a runny nose may develop with both the common cold and the flu, it tends to occur more frequently with the common cold. Doctors suggest using a saline nasal spray to relieve a runny nose, and patients might find it beneficial to use a cool-mist humidifier near the bedside as well. Generally, a runny nose will resolve on its own in about ten days. If it continues for longer than this and does not improve, patients should see a doctor. It is especially important to seek medical attention for green or bloody nasal discharge.
Congestion is characterized by a feeling of stuffiness in the nose or breathing passages. This symptom is more common with the common cold, and it could occasionally occur with the flu. To ease congestion, patients may want to try irrigating the nose with a neti pot. Since lying down tends to make congestion worse, doctors suggest keeping the head elevated as much as possible. Oxymetazoline, a nasal spray, could reduce congestion for some patients. It is available over-the-counter, and should only be used for three days in a row. Patients should see a physician if their congestion persists for more than ten days, especially if it is accompanied by a fever.
Get more information on the symptoms of the common cold and the flu and what the difference is between them now.