Common Cold vs Flu

Common Cold vs Flu

Reynaldo O. Joson, MD

March 9, 2015

On March 3 to 4, 2015, I had some degree of tolerable sore throat with grayish phlegm in the morning when I cleared my throat.  March 5 to 6, 2015, sore throat subsided but not completely.  March 7 to 8, 2015, soreness of throat increased in intensity accompanied by more frequent dry cough and hoarseness of voice.  March 9, 2015, started having itchy throat and runny watery nose.  A little body malaise but no fever, no joint pains, no loss of appetite all throughout these days.

What do I have a –  viral upper respiratory tract infection (common cold) or systemic viral infection (influenza or flu)?

Are they the same? If not, what is / are the differences?  Should I differentiate the two in terms of medical management?

I searched the Net.  Here are what I found:

They are not exactly the same.  Some similarities are that both are usually caused by a viral infection; they may have the same symptoms particularly if the flu is mild; medical management may be the same in terms of supportive and symptomatic treatment.   I should differentiate the two as they may have impact on my medical management.

Common cold is a layman’s term for a viral upper respiratory tract infection.  It is caused by a virus other the influenza virus.  More than 100 different kinds of viruses except influenza virus can cause common cold.  However, the most common one is the rhinovirus.

Flu is a layman’s term for influenza.  It is caused by an influenza virus.  Just like common cold, it infects the respiratory tract.  However, common cold is usually milder than flu.

Cold symptoms usually begin with a sore throat which usually goes away after a day or two. Nasal symptoms, stuffy nose, runny nose and congestion follow, along with sneezing and cough by the fourth and fifth days. Fever is uncommon but a slight fever is possible.

Flu symptoms are usually more severe than cold symptoms and come on quickly. Flu symptoms include fever, headache, muscle ache and soreness, nasal congestion, sore throat and cough.

Aside from the pattern of symptoms, the time of year when the respiratory disease develops can give clue as to the type.  Flu is usually seasonal, usually during the rainy season in the Philippines (July to December).  Common cold can occur anytime.

I think I got a common cold or viral upper respiratory tract infection.  I will institute the following supportive management, rest and lots of fluid.  If needed, I will institute symptomatic management like salt gargle.  Antibiotic is not indicated as my common cold is caused by a viral infection.

Note: In the future, I will research on the effectiveness of the other published forms of symptomatic management like cough expectorants, decongestants, etc.


Follow-up Reports:

March 13, 2015

No more running nose (see picture taken on March 11, 2015).

runny_nose_rj_15mar11 (1)

Runny or Running Nose_rj_15mar13

No more itchiness of the throat.  No more cough.

In less than 7 days, counting from March 7, everything has cleared up.  Thus, diagnosis is common colds (not flu).

No antibiotics. No other medications like anti-coughs, anti-running nose, etc.  Did not absent from work.  Just tempered my work.  Had more than usual physical and mental rest.  Oral fluids.  Salt gargles.  Waited for my body to recover from the disease.  Waited for my body to heal itself.  Watchful waiting.

This was how I managed my own self.  This is how I will manage a patient with a common cold.   I will prescribe medications only when needed and indicated for symptomatic treatment.

I still have this self-imposed assignment to accomplish: research on the effectiveness of the other published forms of symptomatic management like cough expectorants, decongestants, etc.


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