Guest column: The flu versus the common cold

Allen Boutwell MPAS, PA-C at Grand Canyon Clinic. Submitted Photo

Allen Boutwell MPAS, PA-C at Grand Canyon Clinic. Submitted Photo

Hello from all of us at the Grand Canyon Clinic!

It is the time of year where we begin to see many upper respiratory illnesses, including allergies, the common cold, and yes...the dreaded flu bug, influenza A & B.

In this column, we would like to help you understand some of the differences between the above, give you some ways to treat some of the symptoms and decide when it is time for a visit to the clinic.

First of all, what are some of the ways to tell if you have a common cold virus or a case of influenza?

A common cold normally has the following signs and symptoms: fever (occasionally), headaches are rare, general aches and pains are slight, fatigue and weakness are quite mild, stuffy nose is common, sneezing and sore throat are common, chest discomfort and cough are considered mild to moderate with a hacking dry cough. A cold is milder with shorter duration.

A case of true influenza will give patients the following signs and symptoms: fever may be 102-104 degrees and lasts three to six days, headache, general body aches and muscle pains can be quite severe along with extreme fatigue, weakness and exhaustion. Symptoms can last up to two to three weeks. Stuffy nose, sneezing, clear nasal drainage, sore throat, chest discomfort and a harsh, dry cough is common. Symptoms can last up to two to three weeks with the incubation period about one to four days once exposed.

As you can see, the common cold virus is milder than the true flu. Remember, a virus causes both illnesses and not bacteria and antibiotics usually are not needed.

Now, let's discuss how to treat yourself at home if you have a viral cold. For a cough, use an over-the-counter cough preparation such as Robitussin or Robitussin DM or Delsym for a longer acting treatment.

For aches and pains, use Tylenol or ibuprofen, do not use aspirin for children because of its association with Reye's syndrome.

For nasal congestion and drainage, use a product containing pseudo ephedrine such as Allegra D or Zyrtec D, over the counter products such as Theraflu can also be beneficial.

There is evidence that zinc lozenges may shorten the duration of symptoms and it is important to drink lots of fluids. Orange juice with Vitamin C, is good.

Some bed rest is also helpful, if symptoms last longer than seven to 10 days or you are not getting any better, you may have developed a secondary bacterial infection and require antibiotics.

You should call to schedule an appointment at the clinic.

If you think you have developed a case of the true flu, it may be time to come see us. We can do a rapid flu test to accurately diagnose flu A or B.

If positive, there are some antiviral medications that can shorten the duration and help drastically with the symptoms.

Treatments for the flu include bed rest, cough suppressants, antihistamine/decongestants and Tylenol or ibuprofen for fever.

Importantly, these prescription medications can really help if administered within 48 hours of onset of symptoms.

There can be serious complications from influenza, especially the very young and elderly including pneumonia and Reye's syndrome in children. These conditions can require hospitalization and can even be life-threatening. About 20,000 people die each year in the U.S. because of complications from the flu.

The elderly are at increased risk for serious complications. So are people with serious medical risk factors such as heart disease, lung problems and pregnant women.

Vaccination is the best method to prevent this bad boy, influenza.

The Centers for Disease Control recommends that all individuals older than six months of age get a flu shot.

If you are at high risk for complications from the flu, it is even more important to get a flu shot every fall.

The Grand Canyon Clinic has plenty of vaccine left. It is not too late to get the vaccination this year.

Now is the optimal time.

The cost is $25 cash or it can be run through your health insurance. We highly recommend that you get one!

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