Q: I figure I'll pick up a cold or the flu at some point from all the sniffling, coughing students in my classes. How do I know when to seek medical help?
A: You're right. Because you spend a lot of time around other people, your chances of getting a cold or the flu this winter are high. Remember to wash your hands frequently and get a flu vaccine.
What's the difference between colds and the flu? A typical cold causes a runny nose (the discharge is usually clear, but it could be yellow or green in the mornings), body aches, coughing, and sometimes a mild fever (usually for the first 3 to 4 days). By day four or five, you should be well on your way to recovery.
Flu, on the other hand, can produce all those symptoms, plus headaches, fatigue, and most significantly a higher fever.
Colds and flu are both caused by viruses, not bacteria, so it's really just time that will make them go away. That said, both ailments can morph into more serious conditions, including sinus infection, bronchitis, pneumonia, and strep throat.
How to tell? Go to the clinic if you have sinus pressure or pain, a persistent or worsening sore throat, a deep cough that's making you hack up yellow or green phlegm (all day, not just mornings), fast or difficult breathing, ear pain, or a high fever. If you think you have the flu -- and it's diagnosed quickly enough -- a health care provider can give you an antiviral drug to help ease symptoms faster.
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