Cold or flu? How to tell the difference and what to have on hand to help

December, 2008 Posted in Your Health

By Dixon Bledsoe

Getting a case of the creepin’ crud?

Feeling a bit under the weather or does crawling into a hole sound better?

This is the time of year when colds and influenza strike, usually at the most inopportune moment and certainly without much warning.

But how do you tell the difference between cold and flu, and how do you treat each of them?

It depends upon whom you ask. Most experts agree that if you can still do activities but just don’t feel that great, it is probably a cold. If you feel like hiding in bed for a week and a higher temperature is involved, it’s probably the flu.

Karen McKenzie, certified natural health professional, believes the U.S. health system treats diseases but doesn’t always place the focus on treating for health. McKenzie, who with her husband, Ed, owns Natural Health Center in Silverton, says that sometimes treating the symptoms can impede the body’s ability to rid itself of toxins naturally.

“If we throw up or have runny noses or congestion, that is the body’s way of getting rid of toxins. There is a reason for fevers, colds and flu,” McKenzie said.

Mike Gabe, a Silverton family practice physician, says the difference between having a cold and influenza is quite noticeable.

“The flu is a lot worse. Symptoms include having a runny nose, cough, bad headaches, an overall body ache, high fever and a very sore throat. A high fever might be 102 degrees, but in a cold, and with especially with children, a lower grade fever might be present, in the 100-101 degree range,” Gabe said.

Colds might have many of the same symptoms to a lesser degree, more congestion and often a worse cough.

From the pharmacy perspective, Amber Grant of the Silverton Pill Box said, “The flu is very dangerous and quite serious. Often we feel like we can’t get out of bed, ache everywhere, and are exhausted. With a cold, we just feel crummy. We can get up and function, but don’t like it much. We might be stuffy, have congestion with no fever, and just feel tired. One is relatively preventable – the flu, where a cold isn’t. For both, the best prevention is washing our hands, frequently and thoroughly.”

What should we keep in our medicine cabinets when the bad stuff hits and a visit to the clinic isn’t warranted?

Dr. Gabe advises Robitussin DM (over-the-counter) for cough, a decongestant such as phenenylephrine (an over-the-counter Sudafed variation), and most important, if influenza is caught in the first 24 – 48 hours, Tamiflu.

“It won’t really cure the flu, but it often helps make it milder so you don’t get too sick,” Gabe said.

He is not keen on antihistamines, especially for children, as they don’t have the desired effect on runny noses and eyes and can make kids sleepy.

He also feels a cold and cough is something people can treat themselves. But if it gets worse, and a high fever ensues, people should call their healthcare provider.

A registered pharmacist, Grant said she recommends people keep a good pain reliever on hand.

“Tylenol is a good bet for most people. A good cough suppressant with Dextromethorphan is useful, as is an expectorant with Guaifenesin.

“Antihistimines can be useful, but there are over 15 choices. Over-the-counter phenenylephrine is helpful for congestion. The best advice is to ask your health care professional, because everyone is different and there is no stock answer. Interaction with your other medications is a crucial element to understand, so ask your provider which is best for you,” she said.

McKenzie says echinecea or golden seal (herbs) are “really quite helpful, as is Oregon grape. I also like CC-A with yerba santa for kids for coughs and colds. When you feel it coming on, don’t let it get a total hold on you – start doing something every hour or two.” She has a few other natural favorites – fresh lemon and honey in hot water.

“It balances the Ph levels and clears toxins through the kidney and liver, a de-tox,” she said.

She also suggests drinking plenty of water to ensure the kidneys are working well, keeping garlic oil and Tei-Fu, an essential oil at hand and talking to her at the shop about one of her favorite aids.

“I have had lots of luck with fresh lemon, honey, cayenne pepper, Tei-Fu, lobelia (an herb). It is very helpful for feeling bad, with congestion.”

She also is a fan of garlic oil, if people can get past the obvious. It doesn’t smell that great, but McKenzie suggests rubbing it on the throat and feet.

“It has active ingredients that kill infection. Many people put it on their sick children’s feet, with socks,”McKenzie said.

All the experts recommend some essentials for prevention include washing hands regularly, drinking plenty of water and getting lots of rest. When the crud hits, look for a high fever as a key clue to “flu versus cold,” and exhaustion versus feeling tired. Try to get as much rest as possible, drink lots of water and if things get worse, call your provider.

One thing to remember if you do get the flu, the best thing is to stay home to rest and recover. Don’t spread it to someone else.

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