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September 2011 | 2 Comments | Print
Internal Medicine

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Sick? How to tell if it’s the cold or flu

The first Bengals kick off. Changing leaves in Sharon Woods. Oktoberfest on Fountain Square. They all mark the start of fall in Cincinnati. It’s also the start of cold and flu season. If you want to enjoy the fun and take care of your health, get to know the difference between the two.

Cold or flu?

Approximately 1 million Americans get the common cold annually, and more than 200,000 people are hospitalized each year due to flu-related complications. “People should know which symptoms are more concerning than others, so they don’t risk more serious illness,” says Antoinette Pragalos, M.D., a board-certified internal medicine physician with The Christ Hospital Medical Associates.

Although cold and flu symptoms often imitate one another, there are distinctions. Here’s how they differ:


- Mild body aches

- Mild fatigue

- Wet cough

- Nasal drainage

- Runny nose

- Gradual onset

- Fizzles within 7-10 days




- Severe body aches

- Severe fatigue

- Dry cough

- Severe fever

- Headaches

- Onset occurs within hours

- Can take up to 4 weeks to treat

- Vomiting and/or diarrhea

Why it matters

Both the cold and flu viruses are transmitted through germs. Respiratory droplets can travel through the air and survive on surfaces for hours or even days, which is why these illnesses spread so easily. The common cold doesn’t pose much of a threat to healthy adults, but if passed on to anyone with a chronic illness or weakened immune system, infants or the elderly, it can lead to severe respiratory complications.

Even worse, if someone at high risk contracts the flu, they could also be in jeopardy of developing severe symptoms, including dehydration or pneumonia.

Find some relief

The best way to survive cold and flu season is to avoid getting sick. Getting the flu shot and practicing good hygiene are your best defenses. Get tips to boost your immune system here or visit the Center for Disease Control and Prevention to learn what the vaccine will protect you against this year.

If you do get ill, ridding your body of the virus might take more than a few bowls of mom’s chicken noodle soup. Here’s how you can cope:

  • Stop the spread. If you do get sick, stop the spread by avoiding contact with others until you no longer have a fever (without the use of medication), washing your hands after coughing, blowing your nose or rubbing your eyes and disinfecting shared items like keyboards, phones and door handles.   
  • Address aches and pains. Over-the-counter medicines specific for the cold and flu can ease symptoms, but they can’t treat the cold or flu. Unless you’re at risk for complications, the virus will have to run its course. 
  • Rest and hydrate. Electrolyte drinks, juices and water can restore the cells that fight off the virus, so drink up. Also, allow your cells time to recoup by getting plenty of rest.
  • Call your doctor. “If you’ve tried self-treating your symptoms without relief after 24 hours, call your physician,” says Dr. Pragalos. Your doctor will likely assess your symptoms and prescribe a treatment plan over the phone.

Learn where you can get your flu vaccination by calling 877-904-4YOU or visiting   

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What a great resource this text is.

Helpful information about the different symptoms and coping tips!

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