We’ve all been there before: waking up with a scratchy throat, a stuffy nose, and a heavy head. But is it just a cold, or have you been hit with the flu?
“Both the cold and the flu have the potential to sideline you for a few days, but the flu’s effects are typically more long-lasting and severe, and may require a doctor’s visit and treatment,” explains Christine Stallkamp, MD, director of urgent care for Main Line Health and family practice physician at the Main Line Health Exton Square.
Below, Dr. Stallkamp offers a quick guide on how to tell the difference between these common cold weather illnesses.
It’s a cold if…
Your symptoms are all ‘above the neck.’ Symptoms of a cold typically include a runny or stuffy nose, congestion, headache, and a sore throat. A cold often starts small, with a runny nose or a sore throat, but gets progressively worse, and symptoms can last for up to a week to 10 days.
Because colds are so common, particularly during colder months, it’s easy to shrug off your symptoms and head into work or send your child to school. But remember: colds are contagious, especially during the first few days. Keep yourself or any sick family members home and get some rest to prevent worsening symptoms or the spread of sickness. If your symptoms don’t improve after a week, call your physician or pediatrician.
It’s the flu if…
Your symptoms are more severe, and affect more areas of your body. Although the flu has a few symptoms in common with a cold, like headaches and congestion, it’s also marked by symptoms like fever, muscle aches and soreness, extreme fatigue, and a dry cough. And, while a cold can start small, the flu’s symptoms come on more quickly.
If you’re experiencing symptoms like these, call your physician or visit a local urgent care center. The sooner you can be diagnosed and begin taking medication to combat your symptoms and accelerate your recovery, the better you’ll be. Expedited treatment is especially important for those at high risk for complications like pneumonia, including young children, seniors, pregnant women or those with lung or heart issues, such as asthma.
I still can’t tell!
If you know you’re feeling miserable, but can’t tell if it’s because of the cold, flu, or something else, play it safe. Make an appointment with your physician or visit the nearest urgent care center for an evaluation and diagnosis.
“No matter how mild or severe you think your symptoms are, it’s important not to ignore them. Have them checked out, and listen to your body when it tells you that it’s not feeling well,” says Dr. Stallkamp.
Main Line Health provides a variety of options for after-hours and emergency care, including a certified urgent care center at the Main Line Health Exton Square and the Main Line Health Broomall, both of which have hours on nights, weekends and holidays. Visit our website to learn more about Main Line Health’s urgent and after-hours care.