HEALTH: Tricky diagnosisCold? Flu? Allergies? Sometimes when sneezing, sniffling and coughing are the symptoms, it’s difficult to determine what’s causing them. One way to distinguish between colds and the flu is to gauge the severity of your symptoms, says Dr. Colleen Swank, an Altru Health System pediatrician and director of primary care.
Cold? Flu? Allergies?
Sometimes when sneezing, sniffling and coughing are the symptoms, it’s difficult to determine what’s causing them.
One way to distinguish between colds and the flu is to gauge the severity of your symptoms, says Dr. Colleen Swank, an Altru Health System pediatrician and director of primary care.
“Influenza is a cold on steroids,” Swank said. “Some of the symptoms are the same, but exaggerated.” Those symptoms include a bad cough, body aches and a high fever that result in knocking people pretty much down and out.
“Usually if you have influenza, it’s tough to get out of bed,” Swank said.
Colds and allergies are different from the flu because they usually aren’t accompanied by high fevers. Children often get fevers with colds, Swank said, but they are low-grade.
When it comes to figuring out whether the discomfort comes from an allergy or a cold, which both can cause sneezing and a runny nose, keep in mind that “a lot of times with allergies you have watery, itchy eyes,” Swank said. Often with allergies, the nose also itches, she noted.
One way to relieve allergy symptoms is to take antihistamines, she said. There also are over-the-counter medications that can help relieve cold symptoms.
However, there still is no cure for the cold, which can be caused by a few different viruses. Although, some people believe that colds are caused by the change from fall to winter, it’s really the increased number of people gathering in a confined space that is the culprit.
For example, when school resumes in the fall, children are gathered in classrooms touching shared objects such as pencils and desks. The children come home and pass the germs on to their parents, who, in turn, go to work and pass them on to their co-workers.
Some people want to be prescribed antibiotics to get rid of their colds, but they won’t help, Swank said. The antibiotics will only help if there’s a secondary infection, such as sinus or ear infections, she said.
Physicians are trying to educate patients about judicious use of antibiotics so resistance to them doesn’t develop, Swank said.
Besides taking antipyretics such as ibuprofen and acetaminophen, keeping well-hydrated will help relieve symptoms, she said.
Swank recommends that people get flu shots to aid in prevention of influenza.
“It is not too late to get a flu shot this season. It is recommended for everyone that wants one. Contrary to what some people believe, the shot can’t cause the flu.” People who get vaccinated may experience side affects that include a sore arm, muscle or low-grade fever, but they won’t get the flu.
“The shot is not live so it should not be able to give you an illness,” Swank said.
Another misconception is that the flu shot prevents the “stomach flu.” That’s not the case because the shot is targeted at prevention of influenza and the stomach flu really isn’t the flu at all, but a gastrointestinal illness.
Besides flu shots, practicing good hygiene is another way to help prevention of influenza — and colds and gastrointestinal illnesses, as well.
“Good hand washing will always help with any of these diseases,” Swank said. Meanwhile, using hand sanitizers, and sneezing or coughing into your sleeve, not your hands, helps reduce the spread of illnesses.
It’s also a good idea to stay for at least 24 hours after a high fever breaks, Swank said. That will not only benefit the person who is ill, but also everyone who could come in contact with him or her.
Reach Bailey at (701) 787-6753; (800) 477-6572, ext. 753; or send e-mail to firstname.lastname@example.org.