So you’re feeling run down. Maybe a bit sniffly and starting to cough. Flu season usually starts in October, so should you run to urgent care to get some Tamiflu before it gets too bad? Or is it that cold everyone was getting a couple weeks ago? Could just be fall allergies flaring up, so should you just take a Benadryl and call it a day?
Ugh, seriously, how do you tell the difference?!
The symptoms for these three nasties are similar: sneezing, coughing, congestion, watery eyes, and fatigue. But what causes each of them is different, so there are few things to look out for that can give you some clues as to whether you’ve got the flu, a cold or fall allergies.
That “Hit by a Truck” Feeling
You know the feeling; like someone hit a switch, and suddenly you’re out for the count. You become feverish, achy, tired, and have the chills. If your symptoms come on really quickly and you feel like you’ve been hit by a truck, most likely you’ve got the flu. Head to the urgent care as soon as possible because you might be a candidate for prescription antiviral medication. It won’t get rid of the virus, but it might lessen your symptoms and possibly shorten the duration of your illness. It works best when given within the first 48 hours, so don’t wait if you think you’ve got the flu. It might be the difference between a short bout of the flu or a hospital stay.
One at a Time or All at Once?
A subtle difference between allergies and a cold is that respiratory symptoms sometimes come one at a time with a cold but all at once with allergies. When you have allergies, those allergens don’t just attack parts of your respiratory system. They attack everything. So you’re going to experience the sneezing, coughing, nasal congestion, watery eyes, and fatigue all at once. But sometimes when you have a cold, those symptoms start slowly. Sometimes you start sneezing first. Then your nose starts to run. Then you get the nasal congestion. It’s a subtle difference, but sometimes that can help you tell whether you’ve got a cold or allergies.
Are You Itchy?
Are your eyes, nose, ears or throat itchy? If so, you probably have allergies. Itchiness is a classic sign of allergies, and you don’t typically get itchiness with a cold. Coughing from allergies tends to be caused by irritation from allergens, and frequent sneezing – we’re talking two to three times in a row – is more commons with allergies than with a cold.
Do You Have a Fever?
The palm-to-forehead test isn’t going to cut it here. Grab a thermometer and actually take your temperature. You won’t usually spike a fever with allergies, so if you have a fever, you most likely have a cold.
What Color is Your, er, Mucus
OK, yeah, it’s kinda gross, but the next time you blow your nose, take a peek at the color of your snot. Colds sometimes cause a yellowish discharge, which could indicate an infection. Allergies usually cause a clear discharge. If you do see a yellow discharge, head over to your local urgent care center to make sure you don’t have an active infection.
The most important thing to remember when it comes to the flu, cold or allergies? Prevention! Flu season is officially upon us, so make sure you get your flu shot if you haven’t already. It takes two weeks for to gain immunity once you get vaccinated, so make sure you get your shot as soon as possible. Wash your hands and cover your cough, and if you have allergies, talk to your doctor about what prevention methods are best for your specific needs.