Do you have the cold or the flu? How to know the difference

Flu season is here yet again and we’re still wondering the answer to that same old question: how do I know if I have the flu or simply a cold? New York-based allergist and five times New York Times “Super Doctor” Dr. Morris Nejat stopped by “The Shine” to break it all down for us, plus the biggest flu myth, debunked.

We’ll start with the basics: what is the flu? In the simplest terms, the flu is a virus that attacks our respiratory system and our nasal passages. It also predisposes us to bacterial infections like sinus infections and pneumonia and that’s much of the reason why our medical community encourages the flu vaccine to aggressively try and prevent it influenza.

[Related: Do You Need The Flu Shot?]

What’s the difference between the flu in children and the flu in adults? Dr. Nejat says adults have been exposed to the flu over the years and have built up antibodies against it. When adults get the flu shot, what they’re really getting is a booster to cover any differences between previous strains and current strains. Children, on the other hand, don’t have that much history with the flu so a child may never have been exposed to it at all. Then, all of a sudden, if a child gets hit with the flu virus they can get very ill quickly, catch pneumonia or even be hospitalized.

When asked how we can tell the difference between a cold and flu, Dr. Nejat responded: “When you get the flu you feel like you’ve been hit by a truck. You’ve got high fevers, really bad runny nose, a horrible cough, your body hurts you’re so achy. It’s like a cold gone mad.” Dr. Nejat stresses to treat the symptoms that are affecting you. If it’s a high fever, take Tylenol. If it’s a bad stuffy nose you can take decongestants or maybe use a Neti pot to clear some of the mucus so you don’t get a sinus infection. However, if all of a sudden you get sicker, your cough gets much worse, or you have facial pain, you may need antibiotics. If you’re at high risk for complications of the flu, you may want to call your doctor and get an anti flu antibiotic, which you’ll want to start taking in the first 24 hours for maximum effectiveness.

Keep in mind that regular antibiotics don’t work against the flu. Many people think that’s the magic ticket, but medications like Amoxicillin won’t do a thing. If the symptoms are severs, you’ll want, as mentioned above, an anti-flu antibiotic. Doctors can actually test you to see if you have the flu by taking a swab to your nose, which will show the presence of the flu virus and from there they can properly treat you.

[Related: Study Finds Flu Shot Can Cut Heart Attack Risk By Half]

If there’s one thing you’ll do this year to prepare for flu season, Dr. Nejat says get vaccinated. It’s that simple.  And here’s one major flu myth Dr. Nejat debunked on The Shine for us: getting the flu vaccine will get you sick. It’s completely false according to expert.  He says: “People catch colds, people are run down for whatever reasons.” They get the vaccine and they’ll say a week later they got rundown and that it must’ve been from the vaccine. Just like the measles shot can’t give you the measles or the hepatitis shot can’t give you hepatitis, you can’t catch the flu from the flu vaccine. It just doesn’t work that way.

[Related: Everything Parents Need To Know About The Flu]

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