Do I Have a Cold or Flu, or Allergies?

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I woke up the other day with those dreaded symptoms of winter, a runny nose, congestion, and a sore throat. By that afternoon I had a cough. Just what I needed.

Of course most of my coworkers have been sick with colds, flu, bronchitis, allergies, and even pneumonia, it was hard to tell what was bothering me. Thinking that it was just allergies, I did go to work, but eventually had to take a couple days off.

How Can I Tell What’s Wrong?

So how can you tell what the problem is? According to Web MD, the symptoms of a cold are generally less severe than the flu. With a cold, you typically feel bad for a few days, and improve within a week, The flu generally lasts for several days to weeks. And you can feel run down for over a week.

Medical News Today, states that you typically begin feeling bad gradually with a cold, but allergy symptoms come on suddenly. Allergy symptoms can include a runny nose, congestion, coughing, sneezing, a sore throat, post nasal drip, and conjunctivitis. If your problem is from allergies, the intensity of the symptoms generally stay the same as long as the allergen is present, and they usually flare up during certain times or places. Since I live in Texas, Cedar and Juniper are important allergens at this time of the year.

According to Web MD, people rarely have a fever with a cold, and if they do, it is usually under 101 degrees. Symptoms come on gradually and include a runny nose, congestion, and a sore throat that goes away in a couple days. It should improve in a week. If it doesn’t, it may be allergies or sinusitis.


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Flu symptoms generally appear quickly. The person typically presents with a high fever, sore throat, headache, muscle aches and pains, congestion, and cough. The person may also experience vomiting and diarrhea. In some people, the flu can lead to complications including secondary bacterial infections such as sinus infections, ear infections, bronchitis, and pneumonia. In severe cases, infections of the lining of the heart, pericarditis, and of the heart muscle, myocarditis, are possible. Infections of the brain and lining around the brain ( encephalitis and meningitis) are possible presenting with neck stiffness, headaches, and confusion.


Where Do the Flu and Colds Come From?

There are many cold viruses. They are present all year round, but are most common in the winter and spring. Symptoms usually appear one to three days after exposure to the virus. Cold viruses enter the body through the mucous membranes in the nose, eyes, and mouth. The virus is transmitted in droplet form when a person with a cold coughs or sneezes. The droplet can land on a surface, like a table or hand, and be transferred to the next unsuspecting victim when she touches the surface and later touches her nose or eyes.

According to Everyday, there are several types of flu viruses. One is the Influenza A virus and includes the H1N1 virus, which includes the swine flu virus, and the H2N3 virus. The H2N3 virus has more severe symptoms, mutates more rapidly, and is more resistant to the flu vaccine. The Influenza C virus brings a milder form of the flu. Current flu vaccines do not prevent it. There is an Influenza D virus, but it is found in cattle, not in humans at this point. Flu viruses enter the body in the same manner cold viruses do, making it easy to see why hand washing is so important in preventing the spread of colds or flu.

People with decreased immune systems, such as those over 65 or under 6 years of age, people with chronic illness, people using drugs that suppress the immune system, and pregnant females are more susceptible to the flu or colds, and are more likely to suffer complications.

How Can I Keep From Having Problems?

To keep allergy symptoms from being a problem, you can take antihistamines or an allergy treatment prescribed by your physician. Staying away from what you’re allergic to as much as possible is advisable.

Preventing colds or the flu requires basic cleanliness as well as staying at least 3 feet away from anyone coughing or sneezing.. Keeping hands away from the mouth, nose, or eyes can keep you from transmitting any viruses you’ve picked up to yourself. Wash your hands after touching surfaces someone else might have touched, let people clean up their own tissues, and clean surfaces at least once a day. The flu virus can live up to 24 hours on a table. Also, do your own dishes rather than let the sick person do them. Make sure the sick person has his own pillows and blankets in bed or if he is relaxing on the couch. Cosmopolitan Health and Fitness recommends keeping the windows closed if it’s cold outside. The flu virus’s outer coating hardens in the cold, making it live longer. Keep your toothbrush covered. Make sure you get enough sleep. Getting adequate sleep improves your immunity. And relax. Stress can decrease your immune system as well as decreasing your responsiveness to the flu vaccine.

How Do I Treat Colds or Flu?

Colds and flu can be treated by treating symptoms. If you are congested you could take a decongestant or irrigate your nasal passages with a Neti pot and saline. You could take a fever reducing medication if you have a fever, an expectorant if you are coughing. It may be comfortable to use a vaporizer at night. If you have the flu, your doctor may prescribe an antiviral medication, like Tamiflu, to help reduce the severity of your symptoms. Keep hydrated, and rest. You have a perfect excuse to binge watch something on Netflix and nap during the day!

Keeping healthy during cold, flu, and allergy seasons can be tricky, but with some work, you can minimize your likelihood of becoming ill, and decrease your risk of spreading colds and flu.


Web MD, Very Well Health, Cosmopolitan/Health and Fitness, Medical News Today, Everyday Health.


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3 thoughts on “Do I Have a Cold or Flu, or Allergies?

  1. Great timing for this post as our oak leaves are falling and everyone has upper respiratory symptoms! They all want antibiotics and many are simply cold and allergies. It happens every year around this time. Kids and adults. It’s really hard to tell sometimes between the two.

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