From the Front Line of Family Medicine: Is the Cold or Flu Battle Going on Inside Your Body?

The flu hits fast, a common cold comes on slower, and there’s the complicating fever factor – all explained here


Couple on the couch suffering from a cold or flu | HealthFit Family Medicine | Castle Rock, CO

OK, Troops! We’re deep in the trenches of cold and flu season, and it can be quite vexing for patients when sorting out their symptoms. So, if you’ve ever been sick with the sniffles, and had no fever, you’ve probably had just a cold.

So, what is the “common cold?” Well, it’s a viral infection, most commonly rhinovirus. Rhino … as in the nose, not the animal (although you may feel like you were run over by one). So that can help you when determining the primary symptoms of colds … nasal symptoms.

The first few days you will feel a gradual onset of symptoms. You may feel tired and run-down. Your throat starts to feel scratchy and sore. Then your nose starts to run like the Euphrates River and – ACHOO! You sneeze. Ugh!

Your blasted nose becomes stuffy and congested (isn’t it amazing how much gunk your nose can hold?) It’s stuffy and runny at the same time … quite the conundrum! Well, coincidentally, influenza (flu) also does that. Really, the difference between the two is the intensity of symptoms.

Flu hits you like a bomb – right out of nowhere! You develop a hacking cough from all that gunk draining from your sinuses. Hands down, the cough is what really brings patients into the office when it comes to dealing with colds and flu. When you’re sick with a cold, the cough comes later in the course of illness and lasts way beyond the time when you actually feel “sick.” That nagging cough can linger for weeks – like crazy Aunt Edna who has overstayed her welcome! And sorry to break it to you, antibiotics don’t treat colds or flu … only time does.

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Protect yourself & your family during this flu season. Appointments take just a few minutes and can be added to your routine visit.

Call us: (303) 218-7774

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The fever thing – cold symptom, flu symptom or both?

Let’s delve into this fever thing. Mainly, because the cold virus doesn’t cause a fever. Now don’t get me wrong, I’m not inferring that it won’t raise your body temperature. You will “feel” feverish, you just won’t “have” a fever. So, let’s get down to semantics.

A temperature between 98.6F – 100.4F (F stands for Fahrenheit) is NOT a fever. We call that an “elevated temperature.” Now I’m going to put my scientist hat on for a minute … a fever starts when the temperature reaches past 100.4F (38C). I know, I know, it seems like some arbitrary number I just pulled out from under my scientist hat. But, the reason is because Celsius, also known as centigrade, is the universal standard in the scientific community and used as a global measurement. (Ever been to Europe?)

This Celsius thing can be confusing, so let me help you out: 100.4F = 38C. Normal body temperature in Celsius is 37C. That one tiny degree in Celsius separates normal from febrile. So you have a temp from 98.6F – 100.4F? Sorry folks, that’s not a fever. You might be thinking, But, Jodie, my baseline temp runs lower than 98.6F. Nope … still not a fever.

So why do you feel feverish then? Well, that’s because there is a raging battle going on inside your body trying to fight off this virus. And your immune system gets activated. The white blood cells are your body’s own personal army and ready at a moment’s notice to get called for duty. They are deployed on a search-and-destroy mission to attack that virus!

Flu symptoms hit you like a ninja strike!

So, it’s the fever that is the game-changer here and without it, the flu is not really on the radar. Here’s a pro-tip: get yourself a thermometer and check your temperature (the back of mom’s hand to your forehead won’t do in this circumstance).

Oh, and I need to mention another key factor with flu is the sudden onset of symptoms – they hit you all at once, like a ninja strike! The symptoms hit you fast and furious (like a sweep to leg, Daniel-Son!) within several hours of each other, and, of course, the raging fever over 100.4F. Colds have basically the same symptoms, but the key thing to remember here is that they are slow at onset and are way less intense.

Armed with cold and flu season knowledge, don’t you feel smarter??

If you recognize you or a loved one have the flu, it’s important to schedule an appointment with our office within 24-48 hours for evaluation. If we decide to treat you with an antiviral medication, timing is crucial.

Here’s the proverbial disclaimer: Even if we decide to treat those flu symptoms, the medication has been shown to shorten the length of time you’re sick by only 1 day! So unless you have major medical conditions, specifically lung disease or are immunocompromised, we don’t automatically treat the flu with antiviral medicines because the side effects can be unpleasant … not to mention a hit to your pocket book. The generics can rock you about $95 and the brand name $150 for the 5-day treatment! Our main focus is on making you more comfortable and looking for secondary complications that can arise while you are fighting off this virus.

For more information regarding the flu, visit The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention or you can also talk to your primary care provider (PCP) if you have additional questions. If you don’t have a primary care provider and need one, get in touch with us at HealthFit or call (303) 218-7774 for more information.