When Is It A Cold And When Is It The Flu?
Patricia Zifferblatt | October 1, 2006

Here it comes, again--the kids are back to school, vacations are over, and with all that togetherness, the cold season is starting to rev up. We at Better Life are already getting calls asking what herbs, vitamins, minerals, and over-the-counter medicines a person should take to ease the symptoms of a cold or the flu.

Our primary concern is to help you distinguish between a miserable cold and the more miserable and possibly dangerous flu. Both a cold and the flu are respiratory illnesses caused by viruses, but the symptoms are different and so are the possible complications.

In general, the flu will be much worse than a cold. Here are other differences between a cold and the flu:

Cold: Flu:
Develops gradually Develops suddenly
Sneezing, runny or stuffy nose, and chills Fever of 102-104 degrees lasting 3-4 days
Mild headache, body aches, and fatigue Severe headache and body aches; severe fatigue lasting up to 3 weeks
Hacking cough, and mild to moderate sore throat Intense, dry cough
May include: May include:
Mild chest discomfort Sore throat; severe muscle aches and weakness
Fever, but less than 101 degrees Runny nose, and red watery eyes that are sensitive to light
Complications: Complications:
Sinus congestion or earache Bronchitis, pneumonia; and for a few thousand people every year, death
Prevention: Prevention:
None Annual vaccination

What about nausea and vomiting?
Here’s a surprise--except for small children, the flu rarely causes stomach and intestinal problems, and there’s no such thing as "stomach flu." Flu is a respiratory illness, so the symptoms occur mostly in the lungs. The headache, fever, and aching muscles are caused by your body’s inflammatory response as it tries to kill the virus in your lungs.

So what’s a body to do if cold or flu hits home?
We can’t totally avoid cold and flu season, but we can better prepare for it before it hits and cope with it better while it’s here.

Before they hit:
  1. Boost your immune system. Eat your fruits and vegetables, drink plenty of water, get enough rest, and take a multivitamin-multimineral that contains plant concentrates. It’s also a good idea to take a mushroom supplement that contains shitake and reishi mushrooms for their immune-boosting properties.

  2. Start keeping echinacea, garlic, and vitamin C supplements around for when the “tickles” first hit. Then take them as directed on the label until the symptoms go away, or in case of a high fever, as directed by a doctor. Adults and teens 15 and older can take the Triple Tickle Cocktail--that’s three times the regular amount of echinacea, garlic, and vitamin C, or more precisely:

    Three times a day, take 600 mg garlic, 500 mg echinacea, and 750 mg vitamin C

  3. Wash your hands or use hand sanitizer frequently; use disposable tissues rather than a handkerchief to blow your nose.

  4. Talk with your doctor about getting a flu shot and a pneumonia shot, especially if you are prone to upper respiratory infections, cardiovascular disease, or any other immune or autoimmune disease. Infants and people over 60 should have a flu shot every year.
If and when the symptoms hit:
  1. Get plenty of rest. Eat and drink healthy foods and juices to help your body heal itself. Water is great for helping to wash out the system.

  2. Take over-the-counter medications as needed and directed--not only for the cold or sore throat, but also anti-inflammatories such as acetaminophen (which is easier on the digestive system), ibuprofen, or aspirin if they’re not included in the cold medication.

  3. See your doctor if these symptoms occur:
    • Fever goes over 104 degrees.
    • Breathing becomes labored.
    • Vomiting and sweating cause dehydration.
    • Symptoms start to worsen after the illness should have peaked (about three days) or last longer than 10 days.
    • Coughing up thick, green sputum.
    • Sore throat, earache, or headache is not relieved by anti-inflammatories.
    • Severe chest pain or shortness of breath develops.
    • Swollen glands or hard sore lumps appear on the sides or back of your neck.
    • There’s a history of tuberculosis, rheumatic fever, kidney disease, or heart disease.
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