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Cold, Flu and Pneumonia: How to Tell the Difference

Oct 11, 2018

Cold, Flu and Pneumonia: How to Tell the Difference

Fall and winter are notorious for the viruses and illnesses that make their way around. Many will fall victim to coughs and colds, and some will develop the more serious pneumonia. Unfortunately, these illnesses can produce similar symptoms, making it difficult to distinguish which you are suffering from and when you require medical intervention.

The Common Cold

A cold, while uncomfortable, is a common virus, typically caused by rhinovirus. You’ll most likely experience coughing with a sore throat, stuffy or runny nose with sneezing, watery eyes, minor muscle aches and headaches, and low or no fever. The virus will make you feel run down for a few days, but will begin to subside as it runs its course. Colds are mainly spread from coughing and sneezing when others inhale the germs expelled. The rhinovirus can also spread when you touch a contaminated surface, shake hands, or other physical contact, and then touch your face where the virus most easily enters your body. The best way to avoid a cold is to wash your hands frequently with soap and water, or using hand sanitizer with at least 60% alcohol.

The Influenza Virus

Although symptoms for the influenza – or flu – are similar to those of a cold, they can easily become more severe, making the illness terrible even for otherwise healthy individuals. Along with a stuffy nose and cough, you’ll also feel extremely fatigued with muscle and body aches, no appetite, a high fever, and experience chills and sweats. For many, the flu virus can lead to hospitalization and serious complications, particularly for very young children or older adults. While good hygienic practice is recommended, the absolute best protection against the flu is getting vaccinated. Even though it may not lead to 100% protection, it has been shown to reduce risk of hospitalization and reduce severity of the illness should you become infected.


Pneumonia is different from both colds and the flu as it is typically caused by bacteria, but it is possible to be infected with viral pneumonia. The symptoms are much more serious and can be deadly for seniors, young children, or those with chronic lung conditions. Those with pneumonia experience coughing up mucus or blood, extreme fatigue, trouble breathing, chest pain that is worse with deep breaths or coughing, high fever with chills, frequent sweating with clammy skin, no appetite, and acting confused. Luckily, bacterial pneumonia is treatable with antibiotics, but prompt diagnosis and treatment is vital. If it is caused by a virus, such as influenza, doctors will treat the symptoms as medications will be ineffective, allowing the infection to clear on its own. Protect yourself against pneumonia by washing your hands often, quit smoking, cover your nose and mouth when sneezing or coughing, properly dispose of used tissues, and stay home when sick.

Even with proper hygiene and precaution, it may seem almost impossible to completely avoid all of the viruses making their way around. If you have come down with an illness and aren’t sure if it’s a cold, flu, or pneumonia, visit us today. We will help diagnosis what is making you uncomfortable and recommend a treatment plan that will get you back to feeling like you again.

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