Acute Care Information and Resources

Cold & Flu

Colds & Flus (rhinoviruses) are two types of viral respiratory illnesses with the flu (influenza) being more intense than the average cold when it comes to symptoms. Both viruses are typically spread from person-to-person and can typically be managed with OTC treatment.[1] However, influenza can be dangerous for people with compromised or underdeveloped immune systems such as with children, the elderly, and those who have underlying medical conditions.

Common Symptoms: Common cold symptoms often begin with the onset of fatigue, headaches, or weakness, and progress into the sinus and respiratory reactions such as coughing, sneezing, wheezing, nasal or chest congestion, runny nose, watery eyes, conjunctivitis, sore throat, itchy throat, postnasal drip, and earaches. Flu symptoms may include some or all symptoms of a cold, plus fever, body aches, chills, and reduced appetite. Unlike the common cold, the flu virus can cause serious complications, especially for those with compromised immune systems. If you have a high fever (103 F or higher), vomiting, diarrhea, fainting, or breathing problems it is best to seek emergency medical care. Several other damaging flu strains exist (swine flu for example) that will cause very intense symptoms.[2] The flu virus can also lead to other complications such as pneumonia, with a major sign being a fever that returns after a few days, as well as bronchitis. Anyone experiencing severe symptoms may also be mistaking the flu for a bacterial infection, so it is important to get medical treatment as soon as possible.

Causes: Both colds and cases of flu viruses that are spread from person-to-person. They enter the body via the mouth, nose, ears, or eyes. A cough or sneeze from someone nearby can easily spread each of these viruses in an airborne fashion. Picking up viruses via touching shared surfaces is also common.[3] These reasons are why germs and viruses are commonly spread in public areas such as offices, classrooms, public transportation, etc.

Treatment: Routine handwashing, particularly during cold and flu season is one of the best ways to protect yourself and prevent the spreading of viruses. Using disinfectant sprays or wipes on desks, doorknobs, and other areas that people touch is also helpful. If you have a cold or flu, it’s best to stay home and rest if possible to keep from spreading the virus. OTC decongestants, cough suppressants, nasal sprays, vapor rub, and humidifiers are all good ways to mitigate your symptoms.[4] Ibuprofen is commonly used to keep fever controlled. Most colds and cases of flu will dissipate within a week. Any intense symptoms that persist for more than a few days should be examined by a doctor. Also, keep in mind that a doctor will not prescribe antibiotics for a viral infection but may prescribe prescription-grade pain relievers to help with aches and pains.