Fever, sore throat, runny nose…sound familiar?
When winter arrives, so do watery eyes, sore throats, hacking coughs or even high fevers.
Many illnesses commonly seen during the winter months have similar symptoms. But mistaking one illness for another could lead to extended illness or serious complications. So . . . how do you know when it’s a simple cold or something as serious as pneumonia? And, how do you know when to simply rest and when to go to the doctor? Knowing the key differences in symptoms can help you sort it all out.
A cold is an inflammation of the upper respiratory system caused by a virus. Cold symptoms usually develop over a day or two and typically include:
- runny nose
- sore throat
- dry, hacking cough.
Colds usually do not produce a high fever, which is commonly seen in flu.
Influenza, also known as flu, is an infection in the nose, throat, bronchial tubes and lungs. A sudden onset of the following symptoms is a good indication of flu:
- fever above 101 degrees Fahrenheit
- muscle aches
- extreme fatigue
For healthy people, flu usually is not that dangerous. However, when flu hits people over 65 or those who have other medical conditions such as diabetes or heart disease, serious complications such as pneumonia can occur.
Pneumonia is an inflammation of the bronchial tubes and tiny air sacks in the lungs, usually caused by bacteria or viruses. It usually follows a cold or flu, and the symptoms quickly worsen.
Symptoms of viral pneumonia include:
- dry, hacking cough
- muscle pain
Symptoms of bacterial pneumonia include:
- high fever
- cough with thick, greenish, yellowish or blood-tinged mucus
Although anyone can get pneumonia, it usually occurs in older adults. It can be deadly for people with heart or lung diseases.
Bronchitis is an inflammation of the main air passages to the lungs. It generally follows a viral respiratory infection and typically appears just as the symptoms of the initial infection are fading. Symptoms may include:
- tickle deep in the throat, which develops into a dry cough
- cough may become productive with thick yellow mucus
- slight fever
- shortness of breath
- chest pain
Stay in bed, or go to the doctor?
When you feel the first signs of a cold or flu, keep track of your symptoms. Unfortunately for colds and flu, you sometimes just have to wait it out and treat the symptoms. Get plenty of rest and drink lots of liquids. An over-the-counter pain reliever, antihistamine or decongestant can help you feel better while you wait it out. If symptoms persist, contact your physician. This can be an indication of a secondary infection such as pneumonia or bronchitis.
People over 65 and those with underlying health conditions such as diabetes or heart disease should pay special attention to cold and flu symptoms. Call your physician immediately if you think your symptoms are an indication of a bigger problem. This can help offer you peace of mind and a better chance for a quick recovery.