Is it the flu or just a cold? Advice from a family nurse practitioner

Is it the flu or just a cold?

Natalie Olendorf, family nurse practitioner with TMCOne explains the difference between the two, what you can do to prevent falling victim to them, and when you should seek medical advice.

Both the flu (or influenza) and the common cold are viral infections. However, while the common cold is usually harmless although uncomfortable, influenza has the potential to be dangerous, especially for the very young, very old or those at risk for complications.

Typically the flu affects the nose, throat, and the lungs. The common cold, meanwhile, is a viral infection of just the upper respiratory tract or nose, sinuses, and throat.

Symptoms of the flu include chills, sweats, cough, sore throat, runny nose, body aches and fever over 101.4. It can make people feel quite ill – often they don’t even want to get out of bed. Symptoms will usually last 10-14 days.

Symptoms of the common cold are similar to those of the flu, but not as severe and include a runny nose, nasal congestion, a sore throat, facial pressure, mild aches, and even a low grade fever. Most people will recover from a cold within 7-10 days.

Treatment of the flu

Most people get over the flu without prescriptions, but if you are at risk for complications, you should see your primary care provider for an anti-viral medication called oseltamivir (Tamiflu) or zanamivir (Relenza).

It’s important to note that antiviral medications don’t work like an antibiotic. They help to shorten the flu illness and to prevent complications but do not cure the flu. They need to be taken within 48 hours of the onset of symptoms or they don’t work well. Other treatments include ibuprofen or acetaminophen, rest and fluids.

Should I take antibiotics?

Since the flu, like the common cold, is a viral infection an antibiotic should not be taken. Antibiotics are only good for getting rid of bacterial infections. It is not healthy to take antibiotics when they are not needed because your body can develop resistance, meaning they won’t work when they are needed in the future. Or you may have an unnecessary side effect or allergic reaction.

When should I contact a primary care provider?

You should contact your primary care provider if you have a high fever that is not relieved by over the counter medications; have shortness of breath or trouble breathing, severe cough, are unable to take in fluids or food, or start to become dehydrated.

Who is at risk for flu complications?

Complications of the flu can be significant even life threatening. They include pneumonia, bronchitis, asthma and COPD flare ups, heart problems, and ear infections.

Generally, people who are at risk for flu complications include children, pregnant women, the elderly, people with obesity, asthma, or COPD, smokers, and those with chronic medical conditions like kidney disease or diabetes. Even if you don’t fall into one of the risk groups, someone you love might. Getting the vaccination will help protect those you care about too.

How to prevent the flu

The most important thing that can be done is to get the flu vaccine in the fall.

The vaccine helps your body to make antibodies to fight off the flu without actually getting the flu. It takes about two weeks after you receive the vaccine for the antibodies to develop and provide you with protection from those flu strains. This is why it is better if you get vaccinated early in the flu season.

You can also protect yourself against the flu include keeping your immune system healthy by getting enough sleep at night, eating a variety of foods including fruits and vegetables, getting exercise, and managing stress. Wash your hands before and after eating and using the restroom. Avoid others with flu symptoms.

If you have a severe cough or fever, please don’t go to work or school. Stop transmission of the flu by limiting exposure to others.

But I always feel sick after the flu vaccine!

The flu vaccine has a form of a dead virus and a dead virus won’t get you sick with the flu.

However, some people may feel achy or under the weather for a couple days after having a flu vaccine. This is a sign of your body’s immune system making antibodies. Although uncomfortable, this is much milder than the feeling you have if you contract influenza.

The flu vaccine also is given during cold and flu season, so you may contract a separate cold or respiratory illness after being vaccinated. This is a coincidence and was not caused by the flu vaccine.

When should I get the flu vaccine?

Now!

If you haven’t already had your flu vaccine, get vaccinated before it starts spreading through our community. Even if it is late in the flu season the vaccine can still be beneficial. You can schedule an appointment to get the flu vaccine at the TMCOne Wyatt office by calling (520) 394-6619. A brief registration keeps you on schedule, the central location makes it easy and the friendly professionals provide the quality care your family expects from TMCOne. The flu shot is covered by insurance and only $25 for out of network plans.*

 

Natalie Olendorf F.N.P. and familyAbout Natalie Olendorf, F.N.P.

I am a board certified Family Nurse Practitioner. I have worked in family medicine and urgent care for the last 8 years. Prior to joining TMCOne I worked as a nurse in a Children’s Hospital in Chicago on a solid organ transplant unit and as an emergency room nurse in a Level 1 trauma center.

I attended University of Illinois Champaign/Urbana where I received by Bachelor’s in Nursing in 2003 and then attended University of Illinois Chicago where I received my Master’s in Nursing in 2009. Currently, I am working same-day care and the Fast Pass program at the TMCOne Wyatt location.

I am married and have a young son and daughter. I enjoy being active and outdoors with my family in my free time.

 

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Tucson Medical Center | 5301 E. Grant Road | Tucson, Arizona 85712 | (520) 327-5461
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