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Do I have the Common Cold or the Flu?

‘Tis the season of sniffles once again as we witness the seasons change, and what often comes with it is the risk of respiratory infections like the common cold and the flu. In Tuscaloosa, Alabama, where weather variations can be significant, it's essential to know how to differentiate between these two common ailments. 

Understanding the differences in their symptoms and knowing when to seek medical attention can help you manage these infections effectively. Let’s take a deeper look into the differences between the common cold and the flu, their symptoms, and provide valuable insights into when to seek medical help and available treatment options.

Common Cold vs. Flu: What's the Difference?

The common cold and the flu are both respiratory infections, but they are caused by different viruses. It's important to recognize the distinctions between the two, as they can help you determine the appropriate course of action.

Common Cold Symptoms

The common cold is typically milder than the flu and is caused by various viruses, with rhinoviruses being the most common culprits. Common cold symptoms include:

  • Sore Throat: A scratchy or irritated throat is a common initial symptom of a cold.

  • Runny or Stuffy Nose: You may experience congestion, sneezing, or a runny nose.

  • Sneezing: Frequent sneezing is often a sign of a cold.

  • Coughing: A mild, dry cough can also be present when you have a cold.

  • Fatigue: Cold symptoms can leave you feeling tired and run down.

  • Watery Eyes: Your eyes may become watery and itchy when you have a cold.

  • Mild Headache: During a bout of cold, headaches are common but typically not severe.

  • Low-grade Fever: A slight increase in body temperature is possible when you have a cold.

  • Mild Body Aches: Muscle aches and pains are generally mild or absent.

Flu Symptoms

In contrast, the flu, or influenza, is often more severe and is caused by influenza viruses. The flu symptoms tend to come on suddenly and may include:

  • High Fever: A significant rise in body temperature is a hallmark of the flu.

  • Severe Fatigue: Profound exhaustion is common with the flu.

  • Muscle Aches and Pains: Intense muscle aches and pains can be debilitating when you have the flu.

  • Dry Cough: A persistent, dry cough is also typical for influenza.

  • Headache: Severe headaches are often reported as well when patients have the flu.

  • Sore Throat: A sore throat may be present but is usually less prominent than with a cold.

  • Chills: Shivering and chills are common with the flu.

  • Stuffy or Runny Nose: Congestion and sneezing can also occur when patients have influenza, but they are less common.

When Do I Need To Seek Medical Attention?

Distinguishing between the common cold and the flu can be challenging, but it's important to know when it's time to seek urgent care or medical help. Both illnesses are typically self-limiting and resolve on their own.

However, certain circumstances may warrant a visit to an urgent care facility in Tuscaloosa such as Crimson Care:

  • When You Have Unshakably High Fever: If you have a high fever (usually above 38°C or  100.4°F), especially if it persists for several days, seek medical attention.

  • When You Have Severe Symptoms: If your symptoms are particularly severe, which may include difficulty breathing, persistent chest pain, confusion, or severe vomiting, seek medical help promptly.

  • When You Have Underlying Health Conditions or Comorbidities: Individuals with chronic health conditions like diabetes, asthma, or heart disease are at a higher risk of flu complications. If you have such a condition and develop flu-like symptoms, seek urgent care immediately.

  • If Your Symptoms Persist And Worsen: If your symptoms worsen instead of improving after a few days, it's time to get urgent medical care.

  • If You Are Pregnant And Have The Flu: Pregnant women who suspect they have the flu should consult their doctor or go to an urgent care center, as the flu can lead to complications during pregnancy.

Treating The Common Cold

Both the common cold and the flu are primarily viral infections, which means that antibiotics won't be effective in treating them. However, there are steps you can take to manage your symptoms and recover more comfortably from a cold:

  • Rest: Give your body the rest it needs to fight off the virus.

  • Drink Lots of Fluids: Drinking as much fluids (i.e., water, juice, soup, tea) as you can not only help you stay hydrated but also prevent the dryness of your throat, which can help relieve congestion.

  • Take Over-the-counter Medications: Non-prescription cold medications can alleviate symptoms such as a runny nose or cough.

  • Gargle With Salt Water: Gargling with warm salt water can soothe your sore throat.

  • Humidifier: Using a humidifier in your room can help relieve congestion and improve sleep.

  • Honey and Warm Tea With Ginger or Turmeric: Honey can help soothe your sore throat, while warm tea with ginger or turmeric is not only comforting but brings much-needed relief.

Treating The Flu

The flu can be more severe, and it's essential to take certain precautions and consider antiviral medications if prescribed by an urgent medical care professional:

  • Antiviral Medications: In some cases, your doctor may prescribe antiviral medications to reduce the severity and duration of flu symptoms. These are most effective when taken early in the illness.

  • Rest and Hydration: Like the common cold, getting plenty of rest and staying hydrated is crucial for flu recovery.

  • Pain and Fever Relievers: Over-the-counter medications like acetaminophen or ibuprofen can help alleviate fever, headache, fatigue, and muscle pain.

  • Isolation: To prevent the spread of the flu, it's advisable to stay home and avoid contact with others until you're fever-free for at least 24 hours without the use of fever-reducing medication.

Stop The Spread: Take Preventive Measures

While treatment options are available, prevention is always the best approach to managing cold and flu seasons:

  • Flu Vaccination: Consider getting an annual flu vaccine to reduce the risk of contracting the flu.

  • Hand Hygiene: Wash your hands regularly with soap and water to prevent the spread of germs, especially when you’re outside.

  • Respiratory Hygiene: Cover your mouth and nose with a tissue or your elbow when coughing or sneezing to prevent the transmission of respiratory viruses. It’s better if you can wear a medical-grade face mask when in congested indoor spaces to reduce your exposure to said viruses.

  • Avoid Close Contact: Continue to practice physical distancing and stay away from individuals who are sick to minimize your risk of infection.

Crimson Care Can Help You Manage Viral Infections 

Now that the season of the common cold and influenza is upon us, you need to effectively differentiate the two and understand how to approach and treat both. Should you need urgent medical care for your condition, Crimson Care’s trusted physicians are equipped to cater to our patients' health needs and overall well-being. 


As a quick, walk-in primary or urgent care center in Tuscaloosa, Alabama, Crimson Care can cater to your healthcare needs with our comprehensive services, including the treatment of the common cold or influenza. 

Book online or find a Crimson Care near you to book an appointment!



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