How to Determine if You Have a Cold or the Flu

By: Donna Pleis

Telemedicine for a coldCoughing, sneezing, and runny noses seem to be the norm this time of the year. But if you or a family member becomes ill, how do you determine if it’s merely a cold or a more serious case of influenza? Knowing that doctors have no treatment for the common cold, most of us resist spending time and money for an office visit. For the flu, however, prompt treatment with an antiviral medication is recommended by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention to deter complications that could result in hospitalization.

So, how do you decide if you should see a doctor or not? By understanding the differences between cold symptoms and the flu and using telemedicine to get direction from your doctor, you can take the guess work out of this cold and flu season and keep your family healthier.

The Common Cold

If you’ve caught a cold virus, you’ll first experience a burning in your throat or nose, followed by sneezing, a runny or stuffy nose, and a feeling of being unwell. You may also have watery eyes, a mild headache or body aches, and a slight cough. At this point, you are most likely to spread the cold virus to others; so you should stay at home and rest. Most cold symptoms last a week or two and usually don’t need treatment, but you should call a doctor if any of the following conditions develop: a fever over 103, an earache or sore throat that lasts more than 2 to 3 days, the inability to swallow, acute sinus pain, or cold symptoms in a newborn.

Understanding Influenza

Influenza, caused by flu viruses that affect the nose, throat, and lungs, usually comes on suddenly and is much more debilitating than a cold. Most people recover within a few days, but complications can be serious and life threatening, especially for the elderly, young children, pregnant women, or anyone with a chronic medical condition. Flu symptoms include muscle or body aches, cough and sore throat, headache and fatigue, as well as fever and chills. It’s important to note that not everyone gets a fever, and sometimes children experience vomiting or diarrhea. Flu season can begin as early as October and extends into May, peaking during the months of January and February. Your best chance at preventing the flu is to get the yearly vaccine before the flu season begins, stay away from sick people, and be diligent about hand washing to reduce the spread of germs.

Using Telemedicine Services

Telemedicine utilizes today’s advanced information and communication technology, which allows you to speak with your doctor and healthcare providers without having to leave the comfort of your home. You save money and time by eliminating at least 4 out of 5 doctor’s visits, and during the flu season — it’s wise to stay out of waiting rooms full of sick people. Using your phone, computer, or other mobile device, you can easily discuss symptoms with your doctor. If symptoms are the result of a cold, you’ve saved yourself a needless office visit, and if your doctor diagnoses the flu, he or she can prescribe the antiviral treatment in time to help reduce the severity of your symptoms. If your health plan doesn’t offer telemedicine benefits, or a pay-per-for-service benefit and high deductible plan aren’t saving you money, Call a Doctor Plus (CADR+) is a telemedicine option that provides u nlimited free doctor consultations for one low monthly fee of $19.95. You can lessen your worries during this flu season, when you know the care you and your family needs is simply a phone call or computer connection away. Click on the link to the right to enroll in CADR+, and access the largest nationwide network of providers, offering clinical care through telemedicine.