Cold or flu -- which is it?
You have a cough and your nose is runny. Even worse, you can't stop sneezing. Is it a cold? Or is it the flu?
Both the common cold and the flu affect the body's respiratory system and share enough similarities that make it difficult to tell them apart based on symptoms alone, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), with the flu generally being more severe than the cold.
Adds the website WebMD.com, "While a common cold, including chest cold and head cold, can be caused by more than 200 viruses, seasonal flu is caused by either influenza A or B viruses."
Given the similarities between the two, the only sure way to obtain a diagnosis and proper treatment is to see your family physician, according to the CDC. But if you don't see your doctor, a very general principle to remember is that colds are usually milder than the flu and are often accompanied by a runny or stuffy nose. On the other hand, flu sufferers will generally have a fever, body aches, extreme tiredness and a dry cough.
And if the difficulty in determining whether you have a cold or flu isn't enough, the further bad news is that if you do have a cold, there is no sure-fire remedy to relieve the symptoms. Just take over-the-counter medications to get what relief you can, and wait it out for five to seven days. And don't worry about your cold morphing into the flu; that's a myth. Different viruses are behind a cold and flu, so one can't become the other.
Speaking of myths, it's also untrue that you can catch a cold from going outside in the cold improperly dressed or with wet hair. Despite the clinging nature of this old wives' tale, only a virus in the respiratory system will cause a cold. Likewise, because of the virus, you're also contagious for the first two to three days, according to the National Institutes of Health.
Finally, what about that tried and true remedy, chicken soup? While it falls into the category of comfort food, that's all it provides according to the staff at the Harvard Medical School. "Hot liquids can soothe a sore throat and provide much needed fluids. But chicken soup has no other specific qualities that can help fight the flu," notes the school's website.
Adds the site as a final note, "The flu is a good example of how medical myths can get in the way of good medical care. When it's flu season, take the necessary steps to stay healthy. That includes separating fact from myth."