While each year millions in the U.S. are sickened during flu season, many can’t distinguish between symptoms of the seasonal strain of the flu, a cold and the “stomach flu.” Knowing the difference, and how to properly treat each virus, can speed recovery.
Similar Yet Different
While cold symptoms come on slowly and are limited to the head and upper respiratory system, flu symptoms affect the whole body and come on quickly. Telltale signs of the flu are fever and body aches. However, these are also symptoms of stomach flu, which isn’t related to a flu virus at all. Common viruses that wreak havoc on the digestive system include the norovirus and the rotavirus. Ironically, an immune system weakened by seasonal flu can leave you vulnerable to these so-called stomach flu viruses.
What You Need to Know
Although high fever and body aches occur with both seasonal flu and viruses that attack the gastrointestinal system, these symptoms are more prevalent and severe in seasonal flu cases, and are accompanied by fatigue and headache. The norovirus and the rotavirus both get the misnomer “stomach flu” from primary symptoms being watery diarrhea, abdominal cramps, and nausea or vomiting. Fever and body aches can also occur but are milder.
No matter what the cause of a fever, it’s best to monitor your temperature. See a healthcare professional if a fever is too high or lingers for days.
Treatment — Stomach Flu
For stomach flu, stop eating solid food for a few hours. This will help settle your stomach. Then — stick to foods that are easy to digest, such as toast, gelatin, bananas, rice and chicken — avoiding fatty or spicy options. Stop eating if nausea occurs. Additionally, ibuprofen may upset the stomach, and anti-diarrheal medications may slow down the elimination of the virus. Trust the body’s natural process.
Treatment — Cold
Since there is no cure for the common cold, treatment has two goals: to make you feel better and to help you fight off the virus.
Lots of rest is the key treating a cold. You may find you need 12 hours of sleep each night, so don’t set that alarm. You’ll be most comfortable in a warm, humid environment. It’s also important to stay hydrated by drinking lots of water and avoiding alcohol and caffeine. This makes mucus flow more freely and helps with congestion.
No specific treatment exists for the virus that is causing your cold, but in treating the symptoms you can find relief. See the recommendations for specific symptoms in the next section.
Treatment — Flu
How you treat a flu depends on the symptoms, which may be similar to cold symptoms. Try only to treat the symptoms you have and avoid over medicating. Here are some specific treatments for the identified symptoms.
Stuffy or Runny Nose Decongestants come in oral or nasal spray forms. Decongestants are used to reduce swelling in the nasal passageways. However, nasal spray decongestants should not be used for more than a few days because, if they are used too long and then stopped, they can cause rebound symptoms.
If you have a runny nose, postnasal drip, or itchy, watery eyes — then an antihistamine may be helpful for your flu symptoms. Antihistamines block the effect of “histamine,” and help relieve such annoying symptoms as sneezing, itching, and nasal discharge.
Decongestants can increase blood pressure and heart rate. If your blood pressure is well controlled with medications, then a decongestant shouldn’t be a problem as long as you monitor your blood pressure. This may not be true, however, with certain types of blood pressure medications. Check with your doctor or pharmacist about safety.
Over-the-counter antihistamines often make people drowsy, whereas decongestants can make people hyper or keep them awake. Keep in mind that both decongestants and antihistamines can interact with other drugs you may be taking, and they may aggravate some conditions. Talk to your doctor or pharmacist about which flu symptom treatment is best for you.
Cough An occasional cough may clear the lung of pollutants and excess phlegm. A persistent cough should be diagnosed and treated specifically. On the pharmacy shelf, you’ll find numerous cough medicines with various combinations of decongestants, antihistamines, analgesics/antipyretics, cough suppressants, and expectorants. Ask your pharmacist which combination, if any, would be appropriate for your cough.
Body Aches Children should avoid aspirin. Acetaminophen (Tylenol) or medicines like ibuprofen (Advil, Motrin) and naproxen (Aleve) are over-the-counter options for fever and pain relief. Each medication has risks. Check with your doctor or pharmacist as to which medication may be suitable for you.
Be careful not to overdose! These drugs are often mixed in with other multi-symptom cold and flu remedies you may also be taking. They may also be ingredients in other prescription medicines you may be taking. Your pharmacist can help you check for drug ingredients and interactions.
Sore Throat? Drinking lots of fluids and using salt water gargles (made by combining a cup of warm water and a teaspoon of salt) can often be helpful for easing the pain of a sore throat. Over-the-counter pain relievers and medicated lozenges and gargles can also temporarily soothe a sore throat. Get your doctor’s approval before using any medications, including over-the-counter drugs, and don’t use lozenges or gargles for more than a few days. The medications could mask signs of strep throat, a bacterial infection that should be treated with antibiotics.
Antiviral drugs Antiviral flu drugs are taken to decrease the severity and duration of flu symptoms. In some cases they may be used to prevent flu. They are best taken within 48 hours of the onset of symptoms, but they may still offer benefits if taken later. Talk to your doctor about your health situation because most antivirals do have side effects.
Antibiotics cannot help flu symptoms. The flu is caused by a virus, and antibiotics only treat bacterial infections. Taking antibiotics needlessly may increase your risk of getting an infection later that resists antibiotic treatment. If you get a secondary bacterial infection with the flu virus, your doctor may prescribe an antibiotic to treat the secondary infection.
Source Statepoint news and Webmd.