Cold, flu or allergies?

Woman with tissue having flu or allergy

Flu and cold season begins as temperatures drop and we spend more time indoors. That “togetherness” creates the perfect environment for the spread of all kinds of germs. Your first line of defense is to get your flu shot. Second, you need to know the difference between colds, the flu and allergies. 

It’s hard for most of us—even physicians—to tell sometimes. If you don’t know which is which, you’re less likely to find relief from the annoying symptoms such as coughing, sneezing, stuffiness, fever, aches and pains.

Mary E. Rademaker, M.D., a physician at Norton Immediate Care Center –Highlands, said fall is an especially busy time of year for the center. “It’s early in the flu season. We had our first official case of the flu in early October.” She added, “What we’re seeing most, though, are colds and allergies.” 

Colds and allergies can have similar symptoms, such as a stuffy nose and sneezing. But according to Dr. Rademaker, it is possible to tell them apart. “A cold tends to run its course beginning with a scratchy throat and a stuffy nose followed by a cough. After a week or so you’re generally better,” she said.

Allergy symptoms, on the other hand, stick around as long as you’re in contact with the offending allergen, such as pollen or mold. Allergies can lead to sinus or ear infections that may require antibiotics. That will require a visit to your primary care physician or neighborhood Norton Immediate Care Center. 

Dr. Rademaker said the biggest difference between a cold and influenza—the flu—is the severity of the symptoms. “People with the flu are much sicker. They typically have a fever between 100 and 102 degrees. They have a headache, body aches and a bad cough for up to two weeks.”

If you think you have the flu, it’s important to see a physician so you can be treated right away. 

“There is a proven benefit to the use of antiviral medication if the treatment is started within the first two days of the illness,” Dr. Rademaker said.

She told me there is now a 10-minute test, done while the patient is waiting, that is reasonably accurate in diagnosing influenza. If the test is positive, an antiviral medication like Tamiflu can shorten the duration of the symptoms and lessen their severity. The medication also can be prescribed for other people in the household who may have been exposed to the flu.

To find a Norton Immediate Care Center near you, call (502) 629-1234.    

–Jackie Hays