Turns out, I don't have a cold. I have the flu.
I always thought you had to be vomiting for it to be flu, but apparently, that's not the case. Here are some of the things the doctor asked me, and how I answered. If you're not sure whether you have a cold or the flu, maybe this exchange will help you decide:
NURSE: (after taking my temperature) Well, you have a little fever, 100 degrees.
NURSE: I bet you had no idea.
ME: No idea.
(doctor comes in and takes over)
DR: Did you feel this coming on, maybe a little bit the day before, or did it come on all of a sudden?
ME: I woke up on Friday and I was sick. I didn't feel anything the day before.
DR: Feeling dizzy, light-headed?
DR: Achy, chills sometimes?
ME: (nodding) Yes. Pretty much everything except throwing up.
DR: Nausea too, then?
ME: No, not really. More just not really interested in eating very much.
DR: Not much appetite then.
ME: Not much.
DR: You're drinking some fluids now and then but not a whole lot?
DR: Over-the-counter medications sometimes helping, sometimes not?
ME: Yes. I've been taking a generic Ny-Quil, but I still wake up coughing three or four times a night. [usually this stuff knocks me out completely]
DR: They sometimes work, sometimes don't, then?
ME: Yeah, they help a little bit, sort of.
DR: Mmhm. (looking into my throat) Yeah, there's some redness there. (feeling my neck) And a little bit of a swollen gland on the right side.
DR: (listening to my chest sounds) No sounds of bronchitis or pneumonia, so that's good. You have kind of a dry cough?
ME: Most of the time it's dry, yeah.
DR: And you said you're feeling a little better today.
ME: Today's the first time I felt any better at all. Every day since Friday, I've felt worse.
DR: You're feeling like you've been hit by a truck and you survived the hit, but you're lying on the ground asking, Why couldn't I have just died right then? [My doctor's a little bit nuts, I know.]
ME: That's how I was feeling yesterday. Like, if this isn't going to get better, just get it over with now.
DR: Yup. That's the flu.
He said it's possible that I could discover, after another few days, that a sinus infection may have snuck in underneath the flu. If the flu symptoms start to ease up and I find that I'm blowing my nose all the time and nasty-colored goo is coming out like crazy, then I have a sinus infection. If that's the case, then I'm supposed to fill a prescription he gave me for a version of penicillin. Otherwise, I'm just supposed to keep doing what I've been doing: sleeping, resting, drinking fluids.
He said he usually sees the flu around mid-February, but it seems to be showing itself about a week or two later this year.
Here are some basic things that signal the difference between colds and the flu:
- Centered around the nose. Most of what's happening involves sneezing or a runny nose.
- You might also have a scratchy or sore throat.
- You may also have a headache, or more likely, you can feel the extra pressure in your sinuses. If you press on the flat places on either side of your nose, it hurts, or feels sensitive.
- If you have a cough, there is goo involved. You can feel it moving around down there, or you're actually coughing the stuff up.
- Your voice sounds all hollow or stuffed-up. This is because of the goo in your sinuses that's not allowing the air to flow around the way it usually does.
- Within 1 to 3 days, nasal secretions thicken and turn yellow or green. This is not a sign that you should be taking antibiotics. This is simply part of the progression of the cold.
- Usually subsides in 7 days with a symptom or two that may linger.
- Are caused by rhinoviruses (nasal viruses) or up to 200 other types of viruses.
- You don't have to be vomiting to have the flu.
- You feel awful all over. Your body aches, you are incredibly tired or have a significant reduction in your usual energy levels, and you can't get enough sleep.
- You feel dizzy or light-headed.
- You're not that interested in food, maybe you're nauseous. Maybe you're vomiting -- but just because you're not throwing up, that doesn't mean it's not the flu.
- You may also have a sore throat and headache.
- If you have a cough, it's dry and "hacking." It's not a "productive" cough, or one where you're bringing up the phlegm.
- You have a fever. Chances are, if you have the chills, you also have a fever. You may not know it, it might be only slight, it might not last as long as the rest of the symptoms, but at some point your temperature went above normal (98.6 F) to around 100 F or higher.
- If you do have the flu, somewhere around the 2nd to 4th day of the illness (in my case, it took 7 days), the whole-body symptoms subside and the thing concentrates itself mostly in the respiratory tract, giving you one or more of the following: a runny nose, a cough, sore throat, ear infection, bronchitis, or pneumonia.
- Most of the respiratory symptoms will go away within 7 days. The cough and tiredness, though, can last for weeks even after the illness is gone.
- Caused by a single family of viruses, the influenza family.
The influenza family is an entirely different group of viruses than the rhinoviruses. Things like Cold-Eze and Zicam, which combat the way rhinoviruses work, won't do much against the influenza viruses.
And again, antibiotics kill bacteria, not viruses! So don't take antibiotics to try to kill the flu, because it won't work!
And don't invite the influenza family over for dinner. Hahahaha! (I must be feeling a little better if I'm making bad jokes).
My family doctor
Dr Greene.com, Cold and Flu Differences
NIH, Is It a Cold or the Flu?