Do You Really Have a Cold? Or Is It Actually the Flu?

April 7, 2016

Teira Gunlock

You wake up in the morning and can barely raise your head off the pillow. A pounding headache, congestion, cough, aches, fever--you can’t even imagine driving yourself to the doctor.

What is this and can it be treated? How can you tell if you have a cold or the flu? Good news is, you don’t need to. All you need to do is pick up the phone and call First Stop Health and a U.S.-based licensed physician will determine if you have a viral cold or the onset of the flu.

Up to 20% of the population each year actually catches the flu. This seasonal illness can be unpredictable and severe, resulting in complications at worst or a good 5 to 7 days being sidelined. So if you’re starting to come down with something, but unsure whether it’s a cold or the flu, call us immediately. If your flu is diagnosed within 48 hours, it can actually be treated.

Symptoms: Cold vs. Flu

Deciphering between a cold and the flu can be challenging, especially because not everybody experiences the same symptoms with either illness. The elderly and very young are generally at a much higher risk of life-threatening complications of influenza, so early diagnosis is crucial for these populations. Flu symptoms include fever, chills, body aches, sore throat, and headache.

With a cold, symptoms can include the above, but often also include stuffy nose, congestion and sneezing.

Telling them apart can be challenging even for an experienced physician. A diagnostic nasal swab, if positive, is strong evidence for influenza. Unfortunately the test is not foolproof and a negative test does not necessarily “rule out” influenza. Since influenza is epidemic in nature it is reasonable to treat (with “Tamiflu”) patients in an epidemic area (local incidence is available on who have a fever and a cough, especially household contacts of (nasal- swab) proven cases of influenza.

Diagnosis: Cold vs. Flu

An experienced telemedicine doctor can sort through your symptoms to determine whether you're experiencing the flu or a common cold. He or she will ask about your medical history, symptoms, and onset to determine what is ailing you and work to get you on the right treatment plan as quickly as possible.

The benefit of telemedicine during an illness like a life-disrupting cold (we've all had one) or influenza is that you never have to set foot out of your house to get the treatment you need. You can stay curled up under the covers and send someone out for your medication!

Treatments: Cold vs. Flu

The treatment prescribed for influenza can vary greatly from patient to patient. For some patients with more serious conditions, hospitalization or an emergency room visit may be recommended. However, most patients simply require increased fluid intake, rest, fever-reducers (AVOID ASPIRIN) and pain-relievers. Anti-viral medications may shorten the course of (or even prevent) influenza.

Whether the treatment is OTC palliative care, chicken broth or Tamiflu, our doctors can give you guidance to keep you comfortable and on the mend.

Although the common cold cannot be treated by prescription medication, a doctor can give you guidance on OTC medications so that you can feel better faster. Consulting a telemedicine doctor regarding your symptoms can rule out more serious infections. He or she can provide guidance on the most effective over-the-counter treatment options for your symptoms.

Although seeking treatment for cold or flu symptoms will help you feel better faster, there's no reason to drag yourself out of bed to go to the ER just to wait in triage for two hours before being seen.

If you do fall into the 20% of people who come down with influenza each year, use your telemedicine benefits to diagnose and treat your illness––including prescribing medications to your local pharmacy. If it turns out to be a cold, you will have to let your body do the healing in 10 to 14 days time, but at least you will have the peace of mind to know you need to let nature run its course.

Originally published Apr 7, 2016 12:00:00 PM.