Follow the best medical aid in the industry on facebook

Flu vs. Cold: Know the difference

  •   by Medihelp
  •   24 May 2016
  •   725 view(s)
Winter is here and so is the cold and flu season. Most of us will start sniffling, coughing and feeling miserable in general, and it will probably be only a common cold. But how do you know if it’s not the dreaded flu instead?

Here are some basic guidelines and treatment tips.

What is a common cold?
There are over 200 different types of viruses that can cause a cold. Once you have “caught” a cold, the symptoms begin in one to five days. Usually, irritation in the nose or a scratchy feeling in the throat is the first sign, followed within hours by sneezing and a watery nasal discharge.

The cold will usually clear up by itself in about seven days, with perhaps a few lingering symptoms such as a cough for another week.

What are the symptoms of a common cold?
• A runny or stuffy nose
• A sore throat
• Sneezing
• Mild to moderate fever
• Coughing
• Headache or body aches
• Mild tiredness

How do I treat a cold?
Colds are contagious during the first two to three days, so stay home and rest. Because this is a viral infection, antibiotics are not effective treatment. Over-the-counter medications such as decongestants and anti-inflammatory medicines can however help relieve symptoms such as congestion and fever. Drink plenty of fluids to avoid dehydration.

Colds usually clear up within a few days, but consult a doctor if there is still no improvement after a week, or if you develop significant or persistent fevers. This may be a sign that you have developed a secondary bacterial infection (such as sinusitis or strep throat) that requires antibiotics. A nagging cough could also be a sign of asthma or bronchitis.

How do I prevent a cold?
Here are some ways to prevent this mild but annoying affliction:

Because colds spread so easily, the best prevention is avoidance. Stay away from anyone who is sick, and don’t share utensils or any other personal items such as a toothbrush or towel.

Good hygiene
Practice good hygiene. Wash your hands often with hot water and soap to get rid of any germs you might have picked up during the day, or use an alcohol-based hand sanitiser. Keep your hands away from your nose, eyes, and mouth when they’re not freshly washed. Cover your mouth and nose when coughing or sneezing, and always wash your hands afterward.

What is seasonal flu?
A single family of viruses — the influenza viruses — causes the flu. Flu typically begins abruptly, with a fever, body aches, and marked lack of energy. The fever usually lasts for a day or two, but can last up to five days.

Between day two and day four of the illness, respiratory symptoms begin to increase. Symptoms of a cold can also be present.

For most people, influenza resolves on its own, but medical treatment may be indicated in some cases.

What are the symptoms of flu?
• A dry, hacking cough
• Moderate to high fever
• A sore throat
• Shaking chills
• Severe muscle or body aches
• Headache
• A stuffy and runny nose
• Profound fatigue (may last up to two weeks)
• Some people may experience vomiting and diarrhoea, but this is more common in children

Join Medihelp Medical Scheme to keep your family healthy
Medihelp offers ten different options to suit your family’s medical needs. To assist you in choosing the right option for your family , talk to a Medihelp adviser by clicking here and filling in the form.

How do I treat the flu?
In most cases, drinking lots of fluids and getting rest are the best ways to treat the flu. Over-the-counter decongestants and pain relievers can bring relief of the symptoms and help you feel better. Never give aspirin to children, though. Drink plenty of fluids to prevent dehydration.

Your doctor may prescribe antiviral drugs to treat the flu. These drugs can shorten the duration of the flu and prevent complications such as pneumonia, but you need to take them within the first 48 hours of getting sick.

When should I see a doctor?
Consult your doctor if you’re at risk for complications from the flu. Those most likely at risk for serious complications include:

• People over the age of 50
• Pregnant women
• Children under the age of two
• Those with weakened immune systems due to HIV/Aids, steroid treatment, or chemotherapy
• People with chronic lung or heart conditions
• People with metabolic disorders such as diabetes, anaemia, or kidney disease
• People living in long-term care facilities such as nursing homes

Contact your doctor right away if your symptoms become severe or if you have signs of pneumonia, including:

• Difficulty breathing
• A severe sore throat
• A cough that produces green mucus
• A high, persistent fever
• Chest discomfort

Monitor children closely, and seek prompt medical treatment if they develop the following symptoms:

• Laboured breathing
• Irritability
• Lethargy
• Refusing to eat or drink
• Trouble waking up or interacting

How can I prevent the flu?
The best way to prevent the flu is by being vaccinated. Most doctors recommend getting the flu vaccine at the start of the flu season in April/May.

To avoid picking up the influenza virus, wash your hands often and thoroughly with warm soap and water, or use an alcohol-based hand sanitiser. Avoid touching your nose, eyes, and mouth, and try to stay away from anyone who has the flu or flu-like symptoms.

It’s important to adopt healthy habits to keep cold and flu germs at bay. Get enough sleep, eat lots of fresh fruit and vegetables, exercise regularly, and manage your stress during the cold and flu season and beyond.

Don't be caught with the sniffles this winter!
Medihelp’s preventive care benefits include a flu vaccination per beneficiary per year on most options. Ts & Cs apply.
Load more comments
Thank you for the comment! Your comment will be displayed to others, once it has been approved.
New code


speak to an accredited adviser

Please complete the fields below and we will phone you back with accredited advice