Cold and flu are the most common human illnesses1. These two conditions form part of the medical conditions classified as upper respiratory tract infections (URTI’s). In fact, adults have two to five common colds each year and school children have from seven to ten colds per year2.
Both the Cold and the Flu attack the body through the upper respiratory system3, which consists of the throat, nose and sinuses.
2. Is it the Cold or the Flu?
Because these two types of illnesses have very similar symptoms, it can be difficult to tell the difference between them. In general, the flu is worse than the common cold, and symptoms such as fever, body aches, extreme tiredness, and dry cough are more common and intense. Colds are usually milder than the flu. People with colds are more likely to have a runny or stuffy nose. Colds generally do not result in serious health problems, such as pneumonia, bacterial infections, or hospitalisations2.
"Common cold" and "flu" are syndromes of familiar symptoms caused by viral infection of the upper respiratory tract. It is difficult to define the syndromes exactly because their severity, duration, and types of symptoms can vary greatly.
a. The "Common Cold" syndrome:
The common cold syndrome has been defined in terms of colds as a short mild illness with early symptoms of;
- And a sore throat
- Runny and stuffy nose
- And exhaustion
Generally the severity of symptoms associated with the common cold increases rapidly, peaking 2–3 days after infection, and last an average of 7–10 days but with some symptoms persisting for more than 3 weeks!
b. The Flu (Influenza):
The influenza syndrome typically strikes without warning and is characterised by;
- Sore throat
- Muscle pains
- And loss of appetite6
3. Understanding the symptoms of Colds and Flu's:
- Sore throat: A scratchy sensation or throat irritation is often the first symptom.
- Sneezing: Another early symptom of the cold and flu
- Rhinorrhea (runny nose): A watery nasal secretion that is often accompanied by sneezing.
- Headache: 60 % of patients with cold and flu experience headaches.
- Chilliness and Fever:
- Fever is uncommon in adult cases but more common in infant cases
- Adults mostly experience “chills” and a raised body temperature.
- Muscle aches and pains: 50 % of patients with the cold and flu experience muscle aches and pains.
- Cough: Cough is a common symptom associated with URTIs that may persist for 3 weeks or more. More than a third of patients who visit general practitioners do so because of a cough!
4. What is the recommended treatment for URTI's?
As we know, there’s no cure for the common cold. At present, the best cure is symptomatic relief as the symptoms associated with the cold and flu are perceived as a nuisance2.
5. Cold & Flu Season:
Cold and Flu season is a recurring time of the year characterised by the cold season in each hemisphere3. The reasons for this is that people are often indoors during winter and therefore in close contact with each other so it’s always best to be prepared for the cold and flu season and know what to expect.
- R Eccles. Efficacy and safety of over-the-counter analgesics in the treatment of common cold and flu. Journal of Clinical Pharmacy and Therapeutics. 2006. 0269-4727, 31(4):309
- R Eccles. Understanding the symptoms of the common cold and influenza. Lancet Infectious Diseases. 2005. 5:718-725.
- Centre for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). Influenza (flu). www.cdc.gov/flu
- Jackson G, Dowling H, Spiesman I, Boand A. Transmission of the common cold to volunteers under controlled conditions. 1 The Common cold as a clinical entity. Arch Intern Med 1958; 101: 267–78.
- Heikkinen T, Jarvinen A. The common cold. Lancet 2003; 361:51–59.
- Monto AS, Gravenstein S, Elliott M, Colopy M, Schweinle J. Clinical signs and symptoms predicting influenza infection. Arch Intern Med 2000; 160: 3243–47.