“Is it a cold, flu or allergies?”
It may be the most asked healthcare question of the fall and winter seasons: how do I know if I have a cold or the flu, or is it allergies? Physicians say it can be tough to tell on your own.
“The common cold, flu, and allergies can all present with similar symptoms, but can have very different courses of treatment,” says Kesha Zaveri, D.O., a family medicine physician with Memorial Hermann Medical Group at Memorial Hermann Convenient Care Center in Greater Heights. “It’s important to know what you have so that you can take the right medication and avoid making symptoms worse.”
The National Institutes of Health offers these indicators to help people tell the difference:
As a rule of thumb, allergies won’t cause a fever. The flu, and sometimes colds, can cause a fever which lasts several days.
Colds and flu rarely last beyond two weeks. Allergies symptoms last as long as you’re exposed to the allergen, which could be up to 6 weeks.
Itchy, watery eyes. This most likely will indicate an allergic reaction.
Aches and pains. The flu is most likely to cause body aches or headaches, unlike colds or allergies.
“When in doubt, schedule an appointment with your primary care physician. They can test for the flu and prescribe medication to help shorten the duration of the flu,” says Dr. Zaveri. Colds can also wear down your body’s immune system, leaving you vulnerable to other conditions, which is why it’s also important to see a physician if your symptoms last for more than 2 weeks.
“A cold can lead to ear and sinus infections, strep throat, bronchitis or even pneumonia. If you just can’t seem to kick a cold, a physician will be able to check and see if it has turned into something more serious,” advises Dr. Zaveri.
However, rest, sleep, and fluids may be all you need.
“The fall and winter can be a very busy time for people, but it is important to make your health a priority. Neglecting rest, sleep and hydration will just make it harder to recover,” says Dr. Zaveri.