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If you get a stuffy nose or soar throat this winter, it might be hard to know exactly what the cause is.
Although some symptoms appear to be similar, they can be caused by different germs and need different treatments.
KSMU's Emily Nash spoke with a doctor and has some helpful tips for determining what's making you feel bad.
During the winter months, it's easy to get sick.
Coughing, fatigue, soar throat, and sneezing are signals for your body to start taking it easy and find some medicine.
But it's not always easy to identify what's making you feel bad.
Influenza, the common cold, and seasonal allergies all appear to have similar symptoms.
And distinguishing these symptoms is important in getting the right treatment.
Dr. John Brown is a Family Practitioner at St. John's Medical Center in Springfield.
He says there is a big difference between catching the flu, and catching what people mistakenly call the stomach flu.
Brown says,"There's a lot of misinformation out there in the lay public just about 'what is flue'. And many people when they say I have the flue, they are referring to gastro intestinal illness with nausea, vomiting, loose stoles, sometimes some abdominal cramping, and that's usually due to a gastro-intestinal virus, and almost never involves the respiratory system. Unfortunately they refer to that frequently as the stomach flue."
The common cold and flu are both respiratory illnesses but are caused by different viruses.
After you catch a cold virus, you have a scratchy throat, runny nose, headache, and mild cough.
These symptoms are also included in the flu virus, but last longer and are more intense.
According to the Centers for Disease Control, body aches, high fever, dry cough, and extreme fatigue are signs that you've caught the flu and not just a cold.
Flu symptoms last five to seven days; cold symptoms last only three.
Brown says the best way to distinguish the common cold from the flu is to look at respiratory symptoms, and take your temperature.
Brown says,"I think first and foremost you would want to look at fever. Along with the upper respiratory symptoms. Especially cough or any respiratory distress or wheezing is a real indicator of influenza. Where has mild or no fever with just some upper respiratory symptoms like runny nose perhaps a mild cough, that's more typical of a cold"
Seasonal allergies symptoms, such as having itchy eyes and a runny nose, are also similar to cold and flu symptoms.
Brown says even physicians have a hard time distinguishing cold and allergy symptoms.
Brown says, "When we are talking about Allergies the symptoms usually have a longer duration, they can often be associated with exposure to environmental allergens or pet dander or whatever is setting off the allergen and they tend to be longer lasting. And often people will be able to identify a seasonal component in which there is an exaurbation of symptoms during the spring time or the fall."
Seasonal allergies are not cause by a virus like the cold and flu.
Viruses like the cold and flu are extremely contagious and should be treated as soon as possible.
Brown says, you can never be too cautious about getting your symptoms checked out by a physician.
"When flue hits you, it hits you really hard. And so people are unable to keep up with the same pace that usually have been able to go at previously. So usually they will air on the side of thinking symptoms are the flue when they are not, rather than thinking they don't have the flue and delaying. But none the less people will delay in getting in for treatment, and that can make the flue last longer, the symptoms more sever. The quicker we can catch the flue, in fact the more we have to offer in terms of treatment and the shorter we can make the duration."
If your cold symptoms last longer than three days or if your lymph nodes feel swollen on your neck, you might have a more serious bacterial infection.
Brown says knowing the differences between illnesses is important for treatment.
Brown says,"The reason we differentiate is because, usually the flue causes significantly more problems than the shorter lived gastro intestinal viruses, or common cold. You can have other complications with gastro intestinal viruses, that can cause hospitalization, but the flue outbreak can be quite sever."
Although the cold, flu, and allergies have similar symptoms, getting the right cure varies.
Every year an influenza flu shot is made available to help protect your body from getting the flu.
Seasonal Allergies are typically treated on an individual basis by your physician.
The cold virus doesn't have a quick remedy yet, but drinking fluids, and resting, is the best recommendation for fighting off the virus.
The best way to avoid catching a virus like the cold or flu, this winter is to wash your hands frequently and avoid close contact with those who are sick.