Melody Teh

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Do you know the difference between a cold the flu?

Do you know the difference between a cold the flu?

Cold and flu season is upon. Meaning that over the coming months many of us will start sniffling, coughing and feeling somewhat miserable. But what might surprise you is that in most cases it will be nothing more than a cold – not the flu.

So how can you tell one from the other? Well, it can be quite difficult to tell the difference between a cold and the flu just by looking at symptoms. But while a cold doesn’t tend to present symptoms that affect the entire body, the flu is more intense and sometime makes it hard to solider on. In any case, you can find out for sure by visiting the doctor and getting a swab test. 

While flu will make you “sicker” than a cold, sometimes the flu will cause only minor symptoms and some cold viruses can really throw you.

Chances are you’re familiar with the runny nose, sore throat, watery eyes, headache, sneezing and cough that go with a cold. While these can make you feel quite miserable, colds are considered mild illnesses, so you can usually keep going and you tend to feel better after a few days to a week. 

Sometimes you may feel that you’ve had a cold for weeks, but this is often because you have picked up another of the 200 cold viruses. On average you can expect about three colds a year, although if you're around small children, who tend to get more, you might get more too.

On the contrary, the chills and fever, muscular aches and pains, tiredness, headache, sore throat, and cough that are caused by flu are more likely to send you to bed for at least a few days. Sometimes they can leave you feeling pretty terrible for a couple of weeks.

Like a cold, the flu is caused by a virus, usually the influenza A or B virus. But influenza can be deadly and every year around 2,500 Australians die after catching a flu – this is due to the flu being a risk of secondary complications such as pneumonia, bronchitis, croup or middle ear infection.

You can reduce your risk of flu by having a flu shot every year. Anyone can have the flu vaccination – except children under six months of age – but some of us are eligible for a free annual influenza vaccine. This includes those at higher risk of complications from flu, including those over 65. 

Treating colds and flu

When it comes to treatments for cold and flu they are usually the same. The main things are to rest, have plenty of fluids and take care not to spread the virus to others. 

Over-the-counter medications can help you feel more comfortable – such as paracetamol and ibuprofen, which may help relieve pain and fever, or saline nasal sprays or drops for relieving a blocked nose. And it’s important to remember antibiotics don’t work for colds and flu. Antibiotics are used to treat bacterial infections; they have no impact on viruses. 

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