Do you have a cold or the flu?

People often proclaim that they have flu when, in fact, it is just a case of the sniffles. But, how do you tell the difference?

05 April 2019
by Jennifer Campbell

Get your flu vaccine at Clicks

The flu season typically starts in May or June, and usually lasts around 12 weeks. During this time, thousands of South Africans are affected by the virus with its uncomfortable aches and pains. But, it’s also the season in which the common cold thrives, leaving many struck down with symptoms like fatigue, sore throats and stuffy noses.

A man sick in bed blowing his nose

While both illnesses cause discomfort, it’s important to understand the difference between the two: the common cold is a much milder respiratory illness than flu, which can last for weeks and lead to serious health issues, like pneumonia and other secondary infections. Clicks pharmacist Waheed Abdurahman explains the differences, and helps lift the confusion around these conditions.

The main differences between a cold and the flu

According to Abdurahman, colds are characterised by mainly nasal symptoms such as a runny or blocked nose, sneezing, postnasal drip, headaches, coughing and, in some cases, a fever. Colds typically last a few days and people generally recover well without having to visit a doctor.

Flu, on the other hand, is much more debilitating. Abdurahman explains that there may not be any nasal symptoms at all, but you may experience a fever, headache, joint and muscle pain, lethargy, loss of taste and smell sensation, and, in severe cases, secondary bacterial infections in the sinuses, throat, and ears. It can take up to two weeks to recover, even for those who are normally fit and healthy. 

Best treatments for a cold

For a common cold, rest as much as possible, drink plenty of liquids and eat healthy food, advises Abdurahman. 

TRY: Sinutab Saline Nasal Spray and Vicks Honey & Ginger Cough Syrup 

Your Clicks pharmacist can assist with conventional, over-the-counter antihistamines, painkillers and fever reducers, while natural remedies such as:

How to handle flu symptoms

The best bet for flu, advises Abdurahman, is to take pre-emptive action by having the flu vaccine every year around February or March, or as soon as it is available. “If you do get infected, rest and liquids are recommended and symptoms may be treated with fever reducers and painkillers. If you have secondary symptoms like discoloured mucus, tightness when breathing, excessive, sore coughing, sinus or ear pain, it’s a good idea to see a doctor as you may need antibiotics to treat the secondary infection,” says Abdurahman. 

Prevention is better than cure - keep the bugs at bay

Anyone can catch cold and flu viruses, but according to Abdurahman, there are several practical ways to stay bug-free this winter. “Avoid people with colds or flu, and wash your hands and face frequently,” he suggests. He recommends taking an immune booster supplement such as GNC’s new Vitamin C 1000 MG, which contains rosehip and bioflavonoids, and look out for products containing elderberry, echinacea, sambucus or African wild potato extract. 

Also, he urges everyone to get vaccinated every year, especially those particularly vulnerable to illness such as the aged, chronically ill or those with HIV. Pregnant women, children under the age of two, diabetics, patients with heart conditions, and organ transplant patients should also take extra care to avoid getting sick. The flu virus strain changes constantly, so it’s important to get the shot annually.  

Get the flu vaccine now

The flu vaccine is now available at all Clicks Clinics. To make an appointment, call 0860 254 257 or book online here.

IMAGE CREDIT: 123rf.com