SALT LAKE CITY (Good Things Utah) — The common cold and the flu share many symptoms, so it can be difficult to tell which one you’re dealing with. Thankfully, the common cold isn’t typically accompanied by serious complications. But the flu does bring with it the risk of serious, sometimes, life-threatening complications.

There are ways to protect yourself from infection, though, and even make yourself feel a little better, too!

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I don’t feel well… How can I tell if I have a cold or the flu?

Colds and the flu share many of the same symptoms, so it can be difficult to know for sure which one you’ve contracted. Your doctor can do a specific test to tell if you have the flu.

Otherwise, you can look for some subtle differences in the symptoms to give you a better idea. Flu symptoms typically consist of things like a fever, feeling feverish, or chills. With the flu, you might also have a cough, sore throat, runny or stuffy nose, muscle or body aches or a headache, and fatigue.

Quite simply, cold symptoms are usually milder overall, and you’re more likely to have a runny or stuffy nose. Also, colds generally don’t bring with them much risk of serious health complications

Are there ways I can protect myself?

Just like with COVID-19, the best way to protect yourself from the flu, both against the risk of infection and serious complications if you do become infected, is to get vaccinated. There are also antiviral drugs your doctor can prescribe that can be used to treat the flu.

But practicing good health habits can also go a long way toward helping you avoid both colds and the flu. Avoid close contact with people you know are sick – and when you’re sick, do your best to avoid contact with others to lessen their risk. If possible, stay home as much as possible when you’re sick to further reduce the risk of infection.

Cover your mouth and nose when coughing or sneezing, wash your hand often, and avoid touching your nose, eyes, or mouth as much as possible.

How are they treated?

For the flu, antiviral drugs may be an option. These work best when prescribed early, one or two days after you first notice symptoms, so get with your doctor as soon as possible.

Antiviral drugs can also lessen symptoms and shorten the total amount of time you’re sick, by one to two days, if started soon after you notice symptoms. For a cold, there’s simply no cure.

Resting, drinking plenty of fluids, and over-the-counter medicines may ease some symptoms, but they won’t make your cold go away any faster.

What are some possible complications?

Again, one of the things that differentiate a cold from the flu is that colds typically don’t bring with them additional, serious complications.

But if your symptoms last longer than 10 days, seem overly severe or just unusual, or if you’re caring for a child younger than three months who seems lethargic or develops a fever, see your doctor.

With the flu, most people will recover anywhere from two days to just under two weeks, but some severe complications including pneumonia are possible and can be life-threatening. Sinus and ear infections are possible moderate complications.

Pneumonia, though, is a more serious potential complication, and it can result from flu virus infection itself or a combination of the flu and a bacterial infection taking advantage of your compromised immune system.

There have also been occurrences of inflammation of the heart, brain, or muscle tissue, and even multi-organ failure in the worst cases.

Flu infection in the respiratory tract can trigger an extreme inflammatory response in your body, leading to sepsis, a life-threatening response to infection.

Already-present, chronic medical conditions can be made worse, too, such as asthma or chronic heart disease.

Whether I have a cold or the flu – How can I feel better?

Again, the common cold has no cure, and antiviral medicines can shorten the duration of an influenza infection but can’t prevent it completely.

Over-the-counter medicines can lessen your symptoms. Be sure, though, to talk to your doctor if you have any concerns, to make sure they’re right for you.

Drinking plenty of fluids and getting ample rest can help you feel a little better, too.

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