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Though we’ve just had our first taste of normal winter weather (cold, snow, you know the stuff) here in Albany, cold season did not wait to arrive. In fact, we were hit with our first round of colds a few weeks ago and Kyle’s oldest just recently came down with the flu last week. But just what is the difference between the common cold and the flu? For that matter, is there a big difference? If you’ve ever had the flu, then yes- you know the answer to that question. There is a huge difference. But how do you tell the difference between a cold and the flu? What symptoms do you look for and from there, how do you treat it? Today, I want to share with you what I’ve learned from personal experience and Google. Obviously, this does not make me a medical expert and the information that follows should NOT be substituted for medical advice.

Is it a common cold or is it the flu? Here are some signs and symptoms to look for you so can figure out the difference between the two.

[clickToTweet tweet=”Is it the #cold or is it the #flu?” quote=”Is it the common cold or the flu you’re dealing with?”]

As a child I used to get the flu right around Christmas. It never failed and I was usually miserable for the first two days or so before I felt well enough to at least do some celebrating. As an adult, I’ve managed to dodge the flu for the past few years though that was from getting the flu vaccine. This year, well, I did not get my flu vaccine so I’m playing a game of chance and hoping that I don’t come down with it.

What is the Flu?

What are flu symptoms and when is it contagious?

It’s that time of year again, kids have been back in school now for a few months, and the cold weather is usually starting to settle in. This gives people less time outdoors and more time to, well get sick. From sharing large common modes of transportation, and traveling daily through largely populated buildings, even sharing resources, like pencils, pens and toys, it’s only a matter of time before someone we know catches the flu. What is the flu exactly?

 Influenza is a virus; most people pick it up from a surface in public and then not knowing their hand is contaminated, touching their face. The virus can then get into the body through the mouth, eyes or nose. The virus is literally that easy to pick up! Once you come into any contact with a virus it only has to make it in through an opening in the body. Commonly people make themselves sick by coming into contact with a contaminated surface and touching their mouths in activities such as eating, without washing their hands. Touching, drinking from the same cup, and even talking to someone who has the virus can cause the virus to spread further.

Influenza is easily identified by dry persistent coughing, fever, chills, and sore throat. Some people report muscles spasms and aches such as bodily aches pertaining to individual muscle groups and headache, persistent sweating followed by bouts of nausea and diarrhea.  Face it, the smartest thing to do is listen to your mother! Stay in bed! Having the flu is one beast, and realizing how it is spread to deter passing it on is another. So how do we know that were clear?

The flu is contagious before you even know you have it. This is scary saying one day you can feel just fine and have a conversation with a co-worker before going to that annual family reunion, and the next you have to call into work sick. Some study’s say that just by talking, the airborne droplets from your mouth can travel up to six feet! So we know that spreading the virus is easy. Whether by contaminating a surface or by airborne contamination, really anything that allows the virus to physically enter the body.  Usually when we get sick, we like to take the least amount of time in recuperating and getting back to our daily lives. However studies have found that influenza can still be passed on up to a week after you get it. Even if you’re not showing any symptoms it is smart, and respectful to give the people around you and your own body courtesy enough to be 100% before going out again.

Every day our immune systems have an immense job. From the time we are born it fights to keep your body well and safe. Your immune system indeed carries an ever evolving type memory that once it identifies a virus, it will kill it immediately without causing you to be sick. When you get sick this is only a sign of your body doings its job, so let it!

What is the common cold?

Catching the common cold is tough, let’s face it, more than a billion Americans a year fall victim to this illness. Even though it lasts a week it seems like the one week you are sick takes forever. So what can we do in order to avoid this?

There are various misconceptions about illness altogether, as modern science has evolved so has our understanding of the world around us. Illness is just that, a topic that has gone from mystifying mankind down to the open study to where we not only understand it, but can manipulate it and with understanding keep ourselves healthy even through the “cold season.”

[clickToTweet tweet=”The common cold has nothing to do with being cold.” quote=”The common cold is nothing to sneeze at, here’s what to look for.”]

First off catching the common cold has absolutely nothing to do with actually being cold. The common misconception of people getting the cold from the cold varies from the fact that more colds are caught in the off seasons of summer. When in fact this is just due to the closer quarters people have together while staying indoors.  There are studies that have found that if you are cold for prolonged periods of time this can drop your immune system and in turn you can more easily become sick. The common cold is a virus, or in the scientific realm a series of over 200 viruses with the exact same symptoms. Knowing how the virus works and is spread can help us make better choices in order to avoid being sick this season.

The cold is spread through direct contact with the cold virus, or someone who has it. There are plenty of ways to become contaminated, whether we come in direct surface contact with the cold meaning someone who was ill touched a surface, or inhale contaminated droplets through coughs and sneezes. Therefore we need to be more conscious of exactly how many surfaces we are touching and to not allow the virus to enter the body by then making contact with any orifice such as eyes, mouth or nose. Through the various openings in the body is generally how viruses get into the body.

Washing your hands frequently has also been proven to prevent illness.

Studies have shown that the people that are most likely to get ill from a passing cold are either very young or are very old, these two individuals have one thing in common: Insufficient immune system. Infants have not yet had a chance to develop immunity against very many viruses, thus many viruses can still make them sick.

We all have that one friend who demands that they will not be held down by their sickness. Tell them to stay home! The immune system functions the best when the body is functioning at its healthiest state. This means getting ample rest, eating healthy, stress management and always drinking water. When we take time to take care of ourselves our body will take care of us! The more the body is taken care of the less likely it is to get sick.

How to Tell the Difference Between a Cold and the Flu

[clickToTweet tweet=”The fine line between the common cold and the flu” quote=”The common cold and the flu are similar, here’s how to tell the difference.”]

There is a very thin line between a pesky cold and the three-letter word that is dreaded by all. That’s right, the F-L-U. No matter how strong or brave you are, the word Flu strikes fear through you. It is a sure fire way to ruin anyone’s holiday cheer. Sure, Michael Jordan played through the flu to help the Chicago Bulls win an NBA title, but he is Michael Jordan and you are, well, you are you.

What exactly is that “thin line” you ask? Well, symptoms for one, as I stated previously, are a huge difference between a cold and the flu and you can also read about some of the differences above.

While the symptoms of a cold are most definitely annoying and nagging, they pale in comparison to the symptoms of the flu. With a cold you will experience slight congestion, a runny nose, a cough, and some slight tiredness. Normally, you can continue your normal life with a cold until it fades, which is usually about a week or so. When you have the flu your symptoms are extreme and worsen rapidly. Symptoms of the flu include headaches, nausea, body aches, sinus infections, and even pneumonia.

Another major difference is the seasonality of the flu. Unlike a cold, the flu is contracted in the fall or winter. Science has since proven that, while this is correct, the influenza doesn’t so much as lay low, but infect people around the world who are going from the summer season to the colder months. The common thinking used to be that the influenza viruses either went into a state of dormancy or maintained at very low levels during the warmer months before exploding during the autumn and winter.

Treatment of a cold versus the flu is also drastically different and possibly the most crucial piece of information you should take out of this document. While there isn’t a “cure” for the common cold, it is proven that over the counter treatments do help rid your body of the cold quicker. Some over the counter treatments include Tylenol, aspirin, or a simple decongestant. These medicines mixed with rest and healthy nutrient intake will make that cold disappear in no time. Flu treatment on the other hand is a little more complicated. Due to the wider variety of flu symptoms, you need to match up your symptoms to your medicine. For instance if you have extreme headaches you would take an over the counter pain reliever like naproxen. Also, for the flu, most patients require an anti-viral medicine that can only be prescribed by a doctor. This drug will provide some relief to your symptoms, as well as help your body rid itself of the virus, and lessen the chance of you passing the virus to those around you.

A cold isn’t anything any of us wish, but things can certainly be worse. So, next time you find yourself sneezing and with a slight cough, rather then complaining, be thankful its just a cold and not the dreaded three-letter word.

cold or flu infographic

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Digital Product Creator at Kori at Home
Kori is a late diagnosed autistic/ADHD mom. She is currently located in Albany, NY where she is raising a neurodiverse family. Her older daughter is non-speaking autistic (and also has ADHD and Anxiety) and her youngest daughter is HSP/Gifted. A blogger, podcaster, writer, product creator, and coach; Kori shares autism family life- the highs, lows, messy, and real. Kori brings her own life experiences as an autistic woman combined with her adventures in momming to bring you the day-to-day of her life at home. Kori is on a mission to empower moms of autistic children to make informed parenting decisions with confidence and conviction.

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