Apple cider and pumpkin season is here—but it also means the beginning of cold and flu season. So what’s the difference between a cold and the flu, and what can you do to protect yourself from both? Read on to find out.
1. Get Vaccinated
According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, “The best way to prevent seasonal flu is to get vaccinated every year.” They also provide a list of individuals who should be prioritized for vaccination including: “Children aged 6 months through 4 years; People aged 50 years and older; Women who are or will be pregnant during the influenza season; […] and Health care personnel …”
While vaccines may not be 100% effective, they can reduce your risk of flu-related hospitalizations, make the illness less severe if you do come down with it, and serve as a preventative tool for those who have chronic health conditions. Additionally—and perhaps more importantly—the CDC emphasizes that getting your flu shot “also protects people around you, including those who are more vulnerable to serious flu illness.”
2. Know the Symptoms
With congestion and coughs as the leading symptoms of both common colds and the flu, sometimes it can be difficult to tell what you have. According to Scientific American, the reason for the similar symptoms is that they both come from viruses: “The flu is a viral infection caused by the influenza virus, a respiratory virus. The common cold is also a viral infection, caused by the adenovirus or coronavirus.”
However, there are a few key symptoms that might help you tell them apart. Dr. Amesh A. Adalja, a Senior Associate at the Johns Hopkins Center for Health Security, explains that although the common cold and flu are both caused by viruses, “in general, influenza can be more severe than the common cold. Often fever, muscle aches, and fatigue figure prominently in influenza, but are absent from the common cold.”
Additionally, the CDC notes that while flu symptoms may include a fever, feeling feverish/chills, a cough, sore throat, muscle or body aches, headaches, and fatigue, “people with colds are more likely to have a runny or stuffy nose.”
3. Keep a Safe Distance
Once you know what to look for, it becomes much easier to avoid putting yourself in the path of cold and flu viruses. Dr. Tsippora Shainhouse, dermatologist and pediatrician, explains that the flu “is almost always spread by droplets when people sneeze, cough, or talk. These droplets then land on the nose, mouth, or are breathed in by someone else, [and] can travel up to six feet away.” Because of this, it’s important to avoid being in the line of fire. Try to steer clear of co-workers displaying symptoms, send employees home if they are ill, and avoid sharing beverages or utensils.
4. Stay Hygienic
Of course, it isn’t always possible to avoid sick co-workers and classmates without staying home yourself. In this case, your best bet is to keep yourself and your environment as clean and germ-free as possible. If you don’t have the flu, this could help prevent you from catching it, and if you do, it can help you avoid spreading the germs.
When it comes to maintaining healthy flu-season hygiene, be sure to wash your hands with soap often, use a tissue or your elbow when coughing or sneezing, and keep your hands away from your mouth, nose, and eyes.
5. Eat Right, Sleep Well, and Exercise
Ultimately, your best bet at staying healthy this cold and flu season—aside from getting your flu shot, of course—is to limit stress in your day-to-day life. According to the American Psychological Association, stress can actually weaken your immune system. Conversely, “managing stress, especially chronic or long-term stress (even if it’s not intense), may help people fight germs.” And by eating healthy foods, getting enough sleep, and remaining fit, you can decrease the stress in your life and keep your immune system healthy and ready for the fight against the flu.
We hope these tips help you stay healthy throughout the colder months, but if you do get sick, check out our Cold & Flu Survival Guide.