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It’s one of those age-old questions. Soup or salad? Beach or mountains?…Is it a cold or is it the flu?
Both are prevalent in winter. “Kids have been in school long enough to transmit diseases, and when it’s cold, people congregate more in close quarters,” says John Wiprud, M.D., a family practice physician on the medical staff at Baylor Scott & White Medical Center – Garland.
But sick is sick, right? Does it matter if it’s a cold or the flu? Yes, Dr. Wiprud says. “The flu is more likely to cause complications like pneumonia or bronchitis.”
Colds and flu share many of the same symptoms, including coughing, sneezing, headache, nasal congestion and fever. Colds tend to last a week or less and bring on lower-grade fevers than the flu, which often lasts seven to 10 days.
But the main difference between colds and flu is severity at onset, Dr. Wiprud says. “With flu, you usually go from well to very sick in a much shorter period of time,” he says.
If it’s a cold, rest, take medications to lessen the symptoms and let it run its course. But with the flu, see your doctor within 48 hours. He or she can prescribe an antiviral. It won’t cure you, but it can shorten the length and severity of illness.
If you do develop signs of pneumonia—shortness of breath or pain when taking a deep breath—or an earache, see your doctor again right away.
The best way to protect yourself against the flu is to get vaccinated. Call your doctor to get a flu shot. Don’t have a physician? Call 1-800-4BAYLO R for a referral or find your doctor online.
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