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Cold, Flu, or Winter Allergies?

Colds, flu and winter allergies can have similar symptoms, making it difficult to diagnose what’s making you - or your spouse or kids - feel unwell. But mistaking the source of your illness can delay getting you the right treatment, which can be dangerous or even deadly. This was sadly demonstrated by the recent death of 17-year-old Shannon Zwanziger after a weeklong battle with the flu.

Check these descriptions to help you determine if you have a cold, the flu, or winter allergies:

The Flu

This is a viral infection that comes on quickly, making you feel as if you’ve been suddenly hit by a truck. It can last for up to two weeks and cause intense symptoms such as fever, muscle aches and chest congestion, explains Nadim Bizhaki, M.D., an ear, nose and throat specialist at the Ogden clinic in Utah. Seeing your doctor within 48 hours is essential because then you can be prescribed a medication like Tamiflu which will ease symptoms and shorten the duration of the illness.

If it’s already been 48 hours, rely on over-the-counter medicines like ibuprofen and make sure you stay hydrated with plenty of water. While your soreness and fatigue may make you want to stay on the couch, you only need to take sick days if you’re coughing and sneezing, since they can easily pass on your germs - and your flu - to the people around you.

A cold

While colds are caused by a virus, like the flu, they cause much less severe symptoms. For most people. Over-the-counter decongestants like Sudafed and cold medications like Tylenol Cold & Flu Caplets are enough to treat symptoms like a stuffed-up nose or tight chest. Again, make sure to stay hydrated, and cancel work and social commitments until you’re over your symptoms - particularly germ-spreading coughing, sneezing and wheezing - which should take about two to four days.

Winter allergies

While the cold winter weather kills most pollen producers, indoor allergens like mold spores or dust mites can still trigger sniffling and sneezing. Symptoms come on suddenly and gradually worsen during the period that you’re exposed to the irritant, which is why allergic episodes that last more than a week aren’t uncommon. The good news? Allergies are not contagious and are easily remedied with over-the-counter antihistamines like Zyrtec and steroid nasal sprays like Nasacort. Both should have you feeling better within hours.  


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