The checklist for the common cold is a runny or stuffy nose, a scratchy and sore throat and fatigue. Flu or influenza generally has the same or very similar symptoms, such as the runny nose (yet the nose is less congested with flu than with a cold), a sore or heavy head and tiredness though the fundamental difference between these two ailments is the severity of the symptoms and flu is more than often accompanied by a high fever and this tends to last for a few days. Flu will also cause the entire body to ache and typically will not cause the throat to become sore and inflamed (as in the case of the common cold).
The symptoms of colds and flu can be treated but there is no cure as both are viruses. The symptoms can be eased or relived with the help of decongestants for instance to clear a stuffy nose or Paracetemol (Panado) can be taken to relieve headaches and sore throats. Flu on the other hand can be treated with a course of antibiotics along with over the counter medications and flu can be prevented (or the severity of the symptoms lessened) with a flu shot at the onset of the flu season, which is typically late autumn.
A flu shot is required each and every year and the shot is not a cure for flu (as flu is a virus and the virus continually mutates or evolves) but the shot will help to reduce the severity of the ailment. Another major distinction between influenza and the common cold is that if left untreated, flu (especially in the case of babies and older people) can be serious and fatal.
Flu and colds – equally contagious!
Influenza and colds are spread in the same fashion. A person who has the virus will pass the virus onto an unsuspecting person by coughing or sneezing and the droplets released will spread the virus. If droplets land on a keyboard, phone, or a handrail – these droplets will also spread the virus. As such, there is very little that can be done to avoid catching a cold or contracting flu but many advise that regularly washing hands with a good quality soap, may reduce the risk of contracting either the flu or cold virus. Since there is no cure and there is no sure way to safeguard against exposure to viruses, it’s important for parents to know the differences between colds and flu and ensure that the correct treatment is provided to reduce the severity of each illness.
Colds (although not serious to begin with) can also develop into secondary infections, such as ear, sinus infections and bronchitis and as such, children who complain of cold symptoms should be monitored and the correct treatment should be given to prevent the onset of serious secondary infections.
Boosting the immune system is a sure-fire way to prevent the severity of the viruses, which means following a good diet, exercising and getting sufficient rest.
Knowing the symptoms
Children who are healthy, and who receive the right treatment will experience the symptoms of flu for about seven days, the average being four to five days. Unlike a common cold, those suffering from a bout of influenza will feel incredibly fatigued and will most than likely be unable to function for a number of days. Even though a cold will cause the child to feel drained and irritable, within a few days the symptoms will virtually vanish and kids will be back to normal. With flu being highly contagious and severe it is important for kids to remain at home (in bed if possible), to drink plenty of fluids and be treated with the necessary over the counter medications to help them cope with the symptoms. Influenza will cause most people to lose their appetite all together (this is a common symptom) but as long fluid intake is good, there is no cause for concern.
The common cold – the most common of all illnesses
Each year, children suffer from at least six to ten colds, and it is one of the most common illnesses worldwide. With the virus continually mutating and changing, a cure for the common cold is virtually impossible and sufferers of the common cold are advised simply to treat the symptoms and wait it out. Although there are a number of different viruses responsible for the illness, the most common are the rhinovirus, coxsackievirus and coronavirus. The cold is spread is in the same way that the influenza virus is spread, either through direct contact or via droplets in the air on which land on objects.
A high fever is not common with a cold, however in younger children or infants a fever may occur. On average the symptoms of a common cold will last for seven to ten days. During the early stages of a cold, the symptoms may be slight but as the virus works its way through the body the symptoms gradually worsen. As opposed to the flu virus, a cold will hardly ever cause grave health problems, unless a secondary infection occurs.
Chicken soup and other myths about colds and flu
We have all heard that chicken soup is the best remedy for a common cold and even for flu. Owing to the fact that chicken soup is soothing and it is able to thin out the thick mucus caused by the virus – the chicken soup -myth’ is now being accepted as a genuine symptom reliever (not cure) for the cold and for flu. Chicken soup has also been found to have anti-inflammatory properties which help to reduce the pain caused by headaches and it soothes the body’s aches and pains caused by the virus.
Starve a fever, feed a cold! There is no need to starve a fever nor is there is a need to feed a cold. Eating healthily during any illness will provide the body with the necessary fuel to fight off the virus. Although a loss of appetite is a usual symptom, it is important to eat healthily and drink plenty of fluids.
Avoid milk when suffering from cold of flu! The fact is that milk does not cause any mucus build up and there is no reason to stop children from drinking milk.
Colds are more common in winter! Untrue, colds are most common during spring and autumn and in fact the cold viruses are often dormant during the colder winter months.