Dr. James Stocks, a pulmonologist at UT Health Northeast, spoke to the Tyler Morning Telegraph about spotting the differences between a cold and flu; and how to reduce chances of getting sick this season.
Q: How do you know if you have a cold or the flu?
A: There’s an important distinction. The main difference between a cold and flu is how it starts and how it progresses. Most colds start off very slowly. You don’t feel bad the first day. There is no fever or aches, and not much of a cough until the third or fourth day. … With the flu, it’s a very sudden onset. One minute you’re fine and the next it feels like someone ran you over. ... Your body aches and you have fever within the first day.
Q: Why is it important to know the difference?
A:We have no medicines that can really treat a cold. We recommend people take cough medicines, over-the-counter preparations, which can help a little bit. But with the flu, if you catch it early and it’s the right kind of flu, you can almost turn it off like a key.
If treated within the first 48 hours, there is a dramatic response. If you have a condition that seems like a flu where it’s a sudden onset illness, with body aches and fever, it’s important to get to the doctor within the first day or two. By the fourth and fifth day, taking Tamiflu is not going to work. The condition is too far along. It’s helpful if early in the illness.
Q: What’s the biggest thing you’d like people to know about the flu vaccine?
A: You don’t get the flu from the flu shot. You will have a reaction that may make you a wee bit ill. Your arm may be sore, you’ll get a little bit of fever, but you can’t get the flu from a flu shot. It’s a dead protein, so you can’t get an infection. With a mild reaction, Tylenol or Advil can handle it just fine.
Q: How severe can a cold be?
A: Presuming you don’t have a complications like pneumonia, or chronic heart or lung disease, if you’re in good health and get a cold, you should be back to OK within seven to 14 days. With the flu, it may be a little bit longer.
Q: Are there any considerations for people with certain conditions when it comes to taking over-the-counter cold medicines?
A: Diabetics don’t have to worry too much, but people with high blood pressure or heart disease need to consult with a physician because (over-the-counter cold medicines) could raise their blood pressure.
Q: How effective would you say cold medicines are in getting over an illness?
A: None of these medicines get rid of a cold. It doesn’t affect the virus at all. It just makes you feel better. A lot of these illnesses are what we called self-limiting disease. The body will get rid of it whether you take a pill or not.
Q: Why does chicken noodle soup remain a go-to remedy when sick with a cold or flu?
A: It’s comfort food. It has some emotional connection. Our mom gave it to us when we were kids. It certainly doesn’t hurt you. It’s warm and soothing and helps to calm a scratching throat. We need a lot of fluids because we tend to get dried out so it keeps the body hydrated.
Q: Why is asking for antibiotics a bad idea when you’re sick with a cold or flu?
A: Most of these are viruses and antibiotics don’t do any good at all. If you ask for or demand that a doctor give you antibiotics and he gives you antibiotics, when you really need it might not be affective - even antibiotics you’ve taken before. There’s always a risk. It can make you sicker down the road if you take antibiotics you didn’t really need.
Q: What are some things we can do to reduce our chances of getting sick?
A: I recommend flu shots for everybody. No. 2 is during the height of cold and flu season, be particularly aware to stay home if you’re sick. No one needs your bugs. … Try to avoid people who are obviously sick. When kids are sick, it’s not the time to go visit grandpa. Also, it’s just a good habit to wash hands three or four extra times a day. Don’t touch your face and eyes and bring germs from doorknobs or the phone up to your eyes.