The Lowdown on Flu Season

Health & Wellness

February 28, 2019

The flu is not the common cold.

Even though the symptoms can appear to be very similar, the common cold does not usually develop into more serious complications. The flu can, resulting in possible hospitalization. Sinus and ear infections are examples of less severe complications; however, pneumonia can be potentially life threatening. Other severe complications may include heart or brain inflammation and multi-organ failure. Patients who have chronic conditions, such as diabetes, asthma, or COPD, are at a greater risk of experiencing complications from the flu.

So how can you tell the difference between the cold and flu?

It boils down to the severity of the symptoms and their duration. A cold may be uncomfortable, with sore throat, constant sneezing, and runny nose, but the flu will include body aches that make you feel like you’ve been hit by a train. The flu will also knock you down for about two weeks, while a cold often subsides in two days.

The hands-down best way to avoid the flu.

Get a flu shot every year.

You may have received a flu shot in the past and still caught the flu. That’s because flu strains are always changing, and we’re making our most educated guess as to what the three or four most common strains will be each year. Therefore, the flu vaccine is modified every year to combat the most recent strains.

You cannot get the flu from a flu shot because the shot does not contain a live virus. The few who do get sick usually have some other virus in their system that they obtained beforehand or that the most recent vaccine doesn’t cover. Even if the current vaccine provides less than full protection, any protection is better than no protection at all.

You may have seen advertisements for the “one and done” pneumococcal pneumonia vaccine. While valuable in it’s own right, and most healthy people 65 and older should get it, it is not the same as a flu vaccine that you should get every year.

Other flu prevention methods are frequent hand washing, regular exercise (which can fight off infection), and drinking plenty of fluids (especially water).

When to see your physician.

If you feel like you have the flu, try to get in to see your doctor within 48 hours of the onset of symptoms. That is the timeframe in which you may be eligible for an antiviral. If you don’t make it in that time and your symptoms have worsened, see your physician anyway to determine if you need hospitalization.

If you catch the common cold (and you don’t have other health issues), there is no point in going to the doctor. The best remedy is to stay home, rest, and drink plenty of fluids.

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Author of this article

April Gandionco, MD, specializes in preventive medicine. She is a guest columnist and located at IU Health Physicians Family Medicine - Brownsburg, 1375 N. Green Street, Suite 100, in Brownsburg. She can be reached by calling the office at 317.852.2251.

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