Do I Have the Flu?

Cover that cough or sneeze!
Cover that cough or sneeze! | Source

Confusion With Symptoms

The common cold is certainly not fun; its physical symptoms can be maddeningly uncomfortable. No one likes to be sick, no matter the ailment. Add to the mix the problem of allergies, which can have similar symptoms to a cold. This form of allergy is known as "allergic rhinitis," for its tendency to cause a runny nose and sneezing, much like many cold viruses.

But, the ordinary cold, it can be said, "...will last a week if you treat it; 7 days if you don't." That is to say, it is self-limiting, and for that week, you may be miserable for part of it, but it won't last much beyond that unless there are complications.

Such complications can include bronchitis or pneumonia, but those rarely happen in otherwise healthy people.

With all the media attention on the flu, and emphasis on getting the flu shot, confusion and worry arises over how to tell if you have a common cold or the flu. "The flu" is a bit of a catch-all term for similar illnesses, and there is more than one variety. There is a milder flu, more seasonal in nature, and there is the much-publicized "H1N1" also known as "Swine Flu."

Extreme Details About Swine Flu

If you want to know the entire history and scope of the H1N1, or "Swine Flu" virus, you might be interested to check out this article at WebMD.

Seasonal flu is less serious than swine flu, although serious complications can occur, especially in the elderly, very young, and those with compromised immune systems. These complications are usually the pneumonia and bronchitis that are much more rare with the common cold.

With the seasonal flu, you will be much more uncomfortable than with a cold; with H1N1, you will be very sick, and in some cases will require being hospitalized.

Chart Your Symptoms

Symptom
Regular Flu
Swine Flu
Common Cold
Allergies
Productive Cough
 
 
X
 
Dry Cough
X
X
 
may be present for asthmatics
Fever
X
X
rare
 
Mild to Moderate Body Aches
X
 
 
 
Slight Body Aches
 
 
X
 
Severe Body Aches
 
X
 
 
Chills
X
X
 
 
Mild Fatigue
 
 
X
 
Moderate to Severe Fatigue
X
X
 
 
Sneezing
 
 
X
X
Smptoms Develop Over a Few Day to a Week
X
 
X
X
Symptoms Start Suddenly
 
X
 
 
Headache
X
X
 
if present, will normally be a sinus headache
Vomiting
X
 
 
 
Diarrhea
X
X
 
 
Sore Throat
X
 
X
 
Mild to Moderate Chest Discomfort/Pressure
X
X
 
 
Severe Chest Discomfort/Pressure
 
X
 
 
Itchy eyes, nose, throat
 
 
 
X
Watering eyes
 
 
 
X
Stuffy nose; can't smell
 
 
X
X

To Vaccinate or Not?

There is much pressure by the medical establishment and media attention on the idea of getting annual vaccinations for both the H1N1 flu and for pneumonia.

While getting vaccinated is a matter of personal choice, there are some for whom it is virtually mandatory. This list includes the elderly; the very young; asthmatics; and those with weak immune systems, such as heart patients or AIDS patients.

Medical professionals of any stripe are also usually required by their employers to get a flu shot; those who refuse usually have the option of wearing a mask at work during the entire flu season. So, if you go to your doctor or pharmacy, and see workers wearing masks, it does not necessarily mean they are sick; it may only mean that they preferred not to get the vaccine.

Understand, there is a 'carrier' aspect, in which some people can be exposed to, and transmit an illness without becoming sick themselves. This is the reason for the masks, in addition to protecting themselves from members of the public who may be ill and transmit the disease.

Incubation Period

The incubation period refers to the amount of time between exposure to a virus and appearance of symptoms.

This is not to be confused with the timing for the onset of symptoms, which may range from a few days to a week with the common cold and seasonal flu, and the H1N1 or swine flu symptoms come on suddenly.

It is almost impossible to determine the point of exposure. It may be from being near someone who coughed or sneezed without covering their mouth and nose; it may be from touching a surface previously touched by someone with the illness who had just sneezed or coughed and covered it with their hand, instead of the currently preferred practice of covering with the inside of the elbow joint,* which is not used to touch faucets and doorknobs.

But when did that happen, and where? Hard to say. But the time between that occurrence and the time when you notice symptoms is the incubation period. You can backtrack it in your mind, but will probably not be able to pinpoint the exact moment or circumstances in which you were exposed. Keep in mind, a person is contagious for at least a day prior to exhibiting symptoms.

*(Personally, if I have to cough or sneeze in public, I prefer to lift the neck of my shirt, and sneeze or cough down the inside of my own shirt, thus preventing any possible outward contamination.)

Pretty Disgusting, Right?

A sneeze captured with a high-speed camera shows just how much and how far contagion can spread if the sneeze is not covered up
A sneeze captured with a high-speed camera shows just how much and how far contagion can spread if the sneeze is not covered up | Source

But Maybe it's Only My Allergies...

Well, possibly. But most allergy sufferers are well familiar with their particular variety of allergy, and how it affects them seasonally.

In a year such as we had in the winter of 2013-2014, where much of the Western United States was under a drought, with many days of above-normal temperatures, the allergy season can become extended. Allergy symptoms in the middle of winter might indeed be mistaken for a cold.

Generally speaking, however, allergy season lasts longer than a cold. So, if you feel fine, other than the sneezing, watery, itchy eyes common to allergies, you probably do not have a cold or the flu.

As always, though, if in doubt, check with your doctor or nurse practitioner.

Non-Drowsy Allergy Medications

Claritin RediTabs 24 Hour Allergy, Non-Drowsy, Loratadine Orally Disintegrating Tablets , 30-Tablets
Claritin RediTabs 24 Hour Allergy, Non-Drowsy, Loratadine Orally Disintegrating Tablets , 30-Tablets

Non-drowsy allergy preparations are a great choice for today's busy lifestyles!

 

Disclaimer

Please note that I am not a doctor or any other kind of medical professional.

I am merely a lay person with an interest in the health field. The information I have presented is a compilation from my research, data from the medical facility I use, and personal experience.

This information is in no way intended as a substitute for medical care, or diagnosis by a medical professional; It is merely an attempt to alleviate some confusion that may occur between many similar symptoms.

If you feel you have any of these symptoms that are causing you lingering problems, or severe symptoms that come on quickly, see your doctor at the earliest possible opportunity, or in the case of H1N1-type symptoms, go to the emergency room.

Have you had the flu?

  • Yes, but I got through it fine.
  • Yes, and I was miserable.
  • No, I got vaccinated.
  • No, I don't get vaccines, but I am able to avoid getting sick.
See results without voting

© 2014 DzyMsLizzy

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Comments 4 comments

FlourishAnyway profile image

FlourishAnyway 2 years ago from USA

This answers common questions and should be very useful! I particularly like your table that sums it all up. I typically choose to turn down the flu shot and end up am fine, but I do exercise considerable precaution with hand-washing and avoiding public areas during extreme outbreaks. I didn't know the bit about health professionals who wear masks. Stay well!


DzyMsLizzy profile image

DzyMsLizzy 2 years ago from Oakley, CA Author

Hello, FlourishAnyway,

I declined the flu shot for years; I can't stand shots/needles.

However, given that my husband is a heart failure patient, and I have now morphed into the "elderly" status of 66 years, I was sort of forced to break down and get one this season.

I was kind of miffed, because I ended up getting 3 shots that day! The flu shot, the pneumonia shot, and a tetanus booster! Grrr...and then, was told to return in 3 months for a shingles vaccine. Oh, dear! Hubby got off with just his flu shot and tetanus booster, as he'd been given the pneumonia one during one of his hospital stays. Sigh.

At any rate, I'm glad you found the article useful. Thanks very much for commenting and adding the importance sanitation.


Maggie.L profile image

Maggie.L 2 years ago from UK

Hi DzyMsLizzy,

I constantly hear people saying that they have the flu when it is probably just the common cold. I think the flu would probably have you confined to bed or at least the house for a couple of days. I like your check list on the chart. I've actually never had the flu and hopefully never will get it. Really useful information here. Voted up and useful.


DzyMsLizzy profile image

DzyMsLizzy 2 years ago from Oakley, CA Author

Hi Maggie.L,

I know what you mean. It's almost as if "the flu" has become a catch-all for any kind of "I don't feel good" ailment, and often, a false excuse to beg off of work or school.

I'm glad you found the article of use; thanks much for the votes.

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