Feeling sick? Sore throat? Runny nose? Fever?
How do you know if you or your kids have a normal cold or a more serious case of influenza, the ‘flu’?
In general, flu presents with more everything—a sorer throat, a higher fever, achier joints, a more severe headache. I have had the flu once in my life and I still remember how awful I felt. I’ve had dozens of ordinary colds and don’t remember them at all.
Treatment for both colds and flu is typically the same: rest, fluids and pain relievers for the aches and pains.
However, it is a good idea to know the difference, because flu can be associated with more complications, such as a very high fever and/or pneumonia. Serious cases of flu require a visit to the doctor or even hospitalization.
That’s why you got your flu vaccination like I recommended, right? To avoid the flu altogether!
I like the website FamilyDoctor.org, rather than using WebMD or Dr. Google (randomly googling symptoms). FamilyDoctor.org is operated by the American Association of Family Physicians. What I like most is its Search by Symptom function, which I think is far superior to WebMD’s symptom checker (its results always include something horrible and life-threatening, don’t they?)
FamilyDoctor.org also has decision trees that help you figure out what you might have and recommend a course of action, whether to see your doctor or try home treatment.
For an example, here is the decision tree for colds and flu.
I also recommend the book Take Care of Yourself, 9th Edition: The Complete Illustrated Guide to Medical Self-Care by Donald M. Vickery, M.D. and James F. Fries, M.D. It, too, utilizes decision trees to help guide you.
These simple charts can really save you money if they give you the peace of mind to wait and watch your symptoms for a few days, allowing nature to work its healing magic.
Even the typical case of flu gets better after a week or so of taking it easy and following home treatments. The website and book both let you know when the severity of your symptoms warrants a visit to your doctor.