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A woman sneezing into a face mask

Fever? Runny Nose? You May Have the Common Cold, or the Flu

What is the Difference Between a Cold and the Flu?

There are many people who don’t know the difference between a cold and the flu. Both maladies are caused by a virus and affect the respiratory tract, but the similarities end there. If you’ve ever asked yourself, “what is the difference between a cold and the flu?” then read on.

The Common Cold

A cold is a relatively benign illness that tends to develop slowly. Symptoms include a runny or stuffy nose. Nasal discharge starts out as watery then thickens. The person has a scratchy, sore throat, coughs and sneezes and may lose their voice. They may experience tiredness, have a mild headache, a low fever and watery eyes.

There are no vaccines that can protect a person against the common cold, because it is benign and a curative head cold treatment isn’t a priority for the medical community. Moreover, there are hundreds of viruses that can cause a cold. Once a cold starts, cold remedies are limited, though there are ways to achieve cold symptom relief. As the adage goes, a person will probably get over a cold in two weeks. If not then, they’ll get over it in roughly 14 days.

The Flu

The symptoms of the flu come on suddenly. Some people compare it to being hit by a truck. The person has a high fever, aches, sweats, chills, weakness, a very bad sore throat and cough, and an achy chest. The flu can also be fatal in some cases. In 2017, 80,000 people died of the flu in the United States alone. Most people who die from the flu are already sick, very young or elderly.

The best treatment for the flu is to get an annual flu shot.

Common Cold Medicine and Cold Relief

Common cold medicine is designed to bring cold symptom relief because no medication can stop a cold once it has started. Antibiotics are useless as cold treatment and may compromise the health of the patient further by killing off beneficial bacteria.

However, adults can turn to over-the-counter medication for their cold treatment. These include pain killers such as acetaminophen. Decongestants in the form of nose drops or sprays are also good cold remedies. Many people recommend zinc lozenges as the best cold medicine for sore throat, and some even say taking zinc immediately upon feeling that tickle in the back of the throat prevents cold symptoms from forming in the first place. Other people claim that the best cold medicine for sore throat is a hot tea made of ginger and honey.

Doctors claim that a person with a cold get medications that specifically treat one symptom instead of buying a product that claims to tackle all of them. Children under 18 should not be given nonprescription drugs for head cold treatment, and they should not be given aspirin. In rare cases, this can lead to a condition called Reye’s Syndrome, where the brain and other major organs swell. Medical experts do not know why aspirin taken for a viral illness can lead to Reye’s Syndrome. A few days off from school and rest is usually all that’s needed for children, and indeed a few days off from work and some rest is all that’s needed for most adults.