Common cold, or is it the flu? How to tell the difference

Spot symptoms, know how to protect yourself

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention reports flu activity is increasing in the U.S. In fact, the director of the National Institute of Allergies and Infectious Diseases, Dr. Anthony Fauci, told CNN this season so far is on track to be the worst in years.

The problem is, flu symptoms can be similar to those that accompany the common cold. So, how can you tell the difference?

According to the CDC, colds are typically milder than the flu. People who get a cold are more likely to have a runny or stuffy nose, and it does not generally result in serious health problems, such as bacterial infections, pneumonia or hospitalization.

However, the flu can have serious complications, with symptoms generally becoming intense quickly, such as fever, chills and muscle or body aches.

Here are some symptoms to be aware of in identifying whether you may have a cold or the flu.

Emergent symptoms in children include:

  • Fast breathing or trouble breathing.
  • Bluish skin color.
  • Not drinking enough fluids.
  • Not waking up or not interacting.
  • Being so irritable that the child doesn’t want to be held.
  • Flu-like symptoms improve but then return with fever and worse cough.
  • Fever with rash.

Emergent symptoms in adults include:

  • Difficulty breathing or shortness of breath.
  • Pain or pressure in the chest or abdomen.
  • Sudden dizziness.
  • Confusion.
  • Severe or persistent vomiting.
  • Flu-like symptoms that improve but then return with fever and worse cough.

If an infant exhibits any of the following symptoms, it's time to get medical help right away:

  • Unable to eat.
  • Trouble breathing.
  • No tears when crying.
  • Significantly fewer wet diapers than normal.

Anyone with emergency warning signs of the flu should go to an emergency room.

In addition, the CDC says if you are at high risk of flu complications or you’re concerned about your illness, call your health care provider for advice. Remember, if you don’t have the flu and go to the emergency room, you are putting yourself at higher risk of catching it.

[Are you high risk? Click here to find out]

The CDC says the best way to defend yourself from the flu is to get the vaccine, but there are other ways you can be vigilant in protecting yourself:

  • Avoid close contact with people who are sick.
  • Stay home when you are sick.
  • Cover your mouth and nose with a tissue when coughing or sneezing. This will not only protect yourself and others from the flu, but it will also help protect you and others from respiratory illnesses like respiratory syncytial virus, whooping cough and severe acute respiratory syndrome.
  • Clean your hands often. If soap and water are not available, use an alcohol-based hand rub.
  • Avoid touching your eyes, nose or mouth.
  • Practice other good health habits, such as cleaning and disinfecting frequently touched surfaces, getting plenty of sleep when possible, staying physically active, managing your stress level, drinking plenty of fluids and eating a nutritious diet.

About the Author:

Dawn is a Digital Content Editor who has been with Graham Media Group since April 2013. She graduated from Texas State University with a degree in electronic media.