Cold and Seasonal Flu FAQs
- How do I know if it’s a cold or flu?
- How long will I be sick?
- Will prescription or over-the-counter (OTC) medicines make me better quicker?
- Does my sore throat mean I have strep?
- Do I need an antibiotic?
- What about bronchitis?
People with seasonal flu feel very bad, very quickly. There’s sudden severe muscle and joint aching, headache, fever over 101° and a painful, hacking cough. Colds or viral upper respiratory infections (URIs) are much milder.
Viral URIs or colds typically last three to five days; people with a chest cold can have a cough for up to 10 – 14 days. Seasonal influenza has several days of fevers, chills, severe aching and a hacking cough. Most people recover after a couple of weeks; for some, fatigue can last for four to six weeks.
Not unless you have true influenza and begin antiviral medication within 48 hours of symptoms. No prescription, OTC medication, herbal medication, vitamin, homeopathic remedy or dietary supplement that has been conclusively shown to shorten the course of a viral URI.
If you have a sore throat, runny nose and cough, it’s a viral infection, not strep. But, if you have symptoms including persistent sore throat with fever, chills or night sweats; persistently enlarged lymph nodes; a stiff neck; or rash, call for an appointment or come to the walk-in clinic at UHS.
Experts recommend antibiotics for strep infections based on clinical signs and a positive throat culture. Antibiotics are given for Group A strep infections to prevent rheumatic fever, a very rare complication.
Bronchitis is uncommon in healthy, young nonsmoking adults. Most of what people call bronchitis is actually the cough associated with a chest cold and doesn’t require antibiotics. Many people with allergies or exercise-induced asthma may have their symptoms triggered by a viral URI. It’s often worse at night, with exercise or exposure to cold air. An inhaler, like albuterol, will help chest tightness, wheezing or shortness of breath.