Know the Facts of Cold and Flu
Aging Matters

It's the season we dread; the time of year that many individuals don't feel well. We're tired, sneezing, coughing and have a stuffy nose. And wonder if it's a cold or flu? But what's very clear about both, each makes a person feel miserable.

The symptoms of the cold and flu are closely related and differ only in the degree of severity. An infectious disease expert, To distinguish if you're dealing with the flu versus a cold, says infectious disease expert, Susan Rehm, MD, learn the F.A.C.T.S and understand the acronym: fever, aches, chills, tiredness and sudden onset. These are the symptoms of the flu. The differences:

Flu vs. Cold

Influenza targets the nose, throat, and lungs, and transmits via inhalation or contaminated surfaces. The symptoms of the flu include fever, aches, chills, tiredness, and occur suddenly. It can bring on headaches, sore throat, and coughs. Resulting in several days in bed and can lead to bronchitis, sinus or ear infection, pneumonia, and even hospitalization. Older age increases the risk of complications.

To prevent the flu - take the annual flu shot for people six months and over. The medical community suggests the shot is of particular importance to the elderly, pregnant women, and individuals with lung conditions like COPD and asthma.

Treatment - get plenty of rest, drink fluids and take over the counter medicines. If treated early, prescription antiviral medication may shorten the duration.

It's a stomach flu you experience bouts of vomiting and diarrhea or gastroenteritis. The flu targets the intestines rather than the lungs.

The cold targets the nose and throat and transmits through inhalation or contact with contaminated surfaces. The symptoms include runny nose, sneezing, and congestion. Other indications are sore throat, cough, aches and pains, and fatigue.

Result: A constant discomfort for one to three weeks.

Prevent a cold by washing hands frequently and keeping hands away from the face. Consume zinc lozenges, and vitamin C may shorten its duration. Over the counter, cold medicines can help relieve symptoms.

What to Watch

If symptoms linger, it could signal pneumonia. The flu may lead to a lung infection and become dangerous if you have a chronic condition, or very old. Call your doctor if you cough up yellow or green mucus, short of breath, breathe rapidly, feel pain when inhaling or have persistent high temperature.

The CDC claims the seasonal flu viruses are detected year-round in the United States, flu viruses are most common during October through February and can stretch into May. A person can monitor flu activity in the U.S. by visiting the website, You'll see when and where the flu exists, track related illnesses, where it's circulating, and measure its impact on hospitalizations and deaths.

Carol Marak, aging advocate, columnist, speaker and editor at She earned a Fundamentals of Gerontology Certificate from USC Davis School of Gerontology.

Part of the Aging Matters Weekly Syndicated Column

Aging Matters is a weekly column tackling everyday challenges that our growing elderly population and their loved ones face. It is also published in a variety of syndication partners including newspapers all over the country.

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