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How to Tell the Difference Between Cold & Flu

As fall progresses and winter looms on the horizon, your immune system will take some time to adjust. Two of the most common illnesses at this time of year are the flu and common cold, which share similar symptoms but require different treatments. Knowing the difference between the two viruses can save you a lot of time and prevent complications from incorrect treatment.

Symptoms of a Cold

Cold symptoms usually begin within three days after initial exposure to the virus. They may vary case-by-case. The most common symptoms include:

  • Stuffed or runny nose
  • Sore or scratchy throat
  • Chest congestion
  • Sneezing, coughing and wheezing
  • Mild to moderate headache

Most colds resolve themselves on their own within a few days and can be treated with over-the-counter decongestants, staying hydrated and getting plenty of rest. More serious symptoms may require a visit to your local urgent care in order to check for additional infections. If you experience a high, persistent fever for more than five days, shortness of breath or severe head, throat or sinus pain, you should visit a doctor as soon as possible for assessment and treatment.

Symptoms of the Flu

Nearly 3 million cases of the flu are reported every year between early fall and late spring. The flu primarily affects the respiratory system, and symptoms may be more serious in high-risk patients including pregnant women, young children, senior citizens and people with chronic conditions and weakened immune systems. Symptoms of the flu virus include:

  • Full body aches
  • High fever (over 100.4 F)
  • Chills and sweats
  • Persistent headache
  • Chest congestion and coughing
  • Fatigue

You can prevent catching the flu virus by getting a flu shot every year. The vaccine is effective for around six months, providing you with protection for the duration of flu season. It takes up to two weeks to become effective, and you may be vulnerable to the virus while your body learns the vaccine. However, the flu shot is the most effective way to avoid developing symptoms.

How to tell the difference between the cold and flu

Because the two viruses have an overlap in symptoms, it can be difficult to tell the difference without a doctor’s visit. Symptoms of the flu are generally more concentrated than cold symptoms, which generally start with a runny or stuffed nose. The cold is less likely to lead to complications including pneumonia or infections. The flu has many potential complications, including inflammation of the heart and other muscles and organ failure. If you begin to experience complications from the influenza virus, go to your local emergency room immediately.  

Cold & Flu Treatment in West Orange, NJ

If you begin to exhibit symptoms of a cold or the flu, visit AFC Urgent Care West Orange for treatment. Our walk-in urgent care is open seven days a week, and you can reserve your place in line by checking in online. Most major insurance plans are accepted. For questions, please call 973-669-5900.