Influenza or the flu is a contagious viral infection common enough that most people will contract the infection multiple times throughout their lives. The flu typically lasts 5 to 7 days, although lingering fatigue may last several weeks. Sometimes the flu requires medical attention, and in some cases can lead to serious complications such as viral pneumonia and sinus infections.
Most flu cases begin with a fever that can last four or five days before breaking. A fever is the body's natural defense against the flu. Although a low-grade fever may occur in the case of colds, high temperatures are characteristic of influenza, reaching 102 degrees or higher. It can be hard to tell the difference between a common cold and influenza in children because their body temperatures are higher on average than adults, both when healthy and ill.
Full body aches are one reason we feel awful when we have the flu. However, the development of red and swollen joints are an indication the condition is advanced and calls for immediate medical care. When the flu sets in, muscle tenderness may develop in the chest, back, and legs. As white blood cells fight the flu, their activation along with the immune system can cause this soreness.
Intense weakness and exhaustion are common symptoms of the flu. Weakness and fatigue can last three weeks or longer in older adults, especially if they are suffering from a chronic illness or weakened immune system. In the case of colds, fatigue and exhaustion are less common, and if they do occur, often last only a few days. The flu drains the body, however, especially when aching joints and a headache accompany it.
Flu and colds are respiratory diseases, which mean they attack the respiratory organs. In both cases, coughing is common and expected. Coughing usually starts with a sore throat, which develops into a persistent dry cough in within two or three days and often comes hand in hand with a stuffy, runny nose. In some cases, the flu can cause pneumonia. Ill people should contact a doctor if they begin coughing up yellow-green or bloody mucus, have a temperature higher than 102 degrees F, or experience a fever with chills and chest pain. People with other medical conditions or a history of a weakened immune system should also see a doctor. In addition, people over the age of 60 and children under the age of five are at higher risk of complications.
Shortness of breath may accompany the flu, along with congestion and stubborn coughing, and some people notice difficulty breathing and chest pain. Restricted nasal passages can contribute to this symptom. Asthmatic patients are often most affected by this symptom. Young children, the older adults, and asthmatics should seek medical attention if their breathing becomes labored.
Colds and flu are spread easily by sneezing or coughing. To prevent infecting people in the vicinity, it is important to practice proper hygeine when coughing or sneezing, covering the mouth and nose, using issues, and frequently washing the hands. Viruses easily pass via communal objects and surfaces such as door handles, computer keyboards, desks, and dishes.
Dehydration and a loss of appetite are common, which can be challenging if diarrhea, nausea, or vomiting accompany the flu. It is important to continue eating properly even when sick, to ensure the body has the nutrients it needs to heal in good time. Try frequent but smaller portions. Doctors usually recommend soft, bland foods such as boiled potatoes, bananas, chicken, rice, and toast.
A headache is not a reliable indicator of the flu because it also occurs in the case of a cold, though severity can be a clue to which condition is the cause -- headaches caused by a cold are often more minor. This is also true for other common symptoms of colds and flu, with the flu causing more intense symptoms. Mucous membranes lining the nasal and sinuses cavities can become inflamed, causing sinus headaches, and fever or dehydration can also cause them.
A stuffy nose with no fever body aches, accompanied by a general feeling of exhaustion and fatigue, most likely indicates a cold. The flu and colds can both cause sinus infections with deep and constant pain in the face, head, and sinus cavities. In these cases, the pain usually gets worse with sudden head movements. Sinus infections should be treated by a physician.
An earache from the flu may be dull or burning and can range in severity from mild to moderate to painful. Flu and colds can irritate the eustachian tube that connects the throat to the middle ear and can cause dull pain in the ears. Fluid trapped in the ear can place pressure on the eardrum. Earaches caused by the flu and colds generally go away on their own but may require medical attention.
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