Colds and the Flu
If you are having any symptoms or have any questions, please call 811 to speak with a registered nurse 24 hours a day.
What is a cold and what is the flu?
A cold and the flu are viral infections. They both affect your respiratory system. This includes your throat, nose, airways and lungs.
Symptoms of a cold or the flu?
A cold and the flu have similar symptoms. However, they are two different conditions..
Cold symptoms include:
- Fever up to 38.9°C (102°F)
- Runny or stuffy nose
- Sore throat
- Feeling tired
- Muscle aches
- Watery eyes
- Symptoms develop slowly
- Symptoms are mild
Flu symptoms include:
- Fever over 38.9°C (102°F)
- Stuffy nose
- Chills and sweats
- Feeling tired
- Muscle aches, especially in your back, arms and legs
- Loss of appetite
- Symptoms appear suddenly
- Symptoms are more intense
For a common cold or the flu, you don’t need to contact your healthcare. However, if symptoms become serious, contact your healthcare provider. Serious symptoms for children include:
- High fever (above 39.4°C (103°F )
- Fever that lasts for more than 3 days
- Trouble breathing, fast breathing or wheezing
- Bluish skin color
- Earache or ear drainage
- Difficulty waking up
- Symptoms that improve and then return with a fever or a worse cough
- Worsening of a chronic medical condition (such as diabetes or heart disease)
- Vomiting or stomach pain
Serious symptoms in adults:
- A high, prolonged fever (above 38.9°C (102°F ) with fatigue and body aches
- Symptoms that last for more than 10 days or get worse
- Trouble breathing or shortness of breath
- Chest pain or pressure
- Fainting or feeling like you are about to faint
- Confusion or disorientation
- Severe or persistent vomiting
- Severe sinus pain in your face or forehead
- Swollen glands in the neck or jaw
Cold and flu symptoms can last between 2 and 14 days.
CAUSES & RISK FACTORS
What causes colds and the flu?
Viruses cause colds and the flu. More than 200 different viruses can cause colds. Not as many viruses cause the flu. That’s why there’s a shot available for the flu and not for colds.
Can a cold or the flu be prevented or avoided?
There are things you can do to reduce your risks for colds and flu. They include:
- Wash your hands frequently. Use soap. This stops the spread of germs.
- Eat healthy, exercise and get enough sleep. These things boost your immune system.
- Cough and sneeze into the inside of your elbow (not your hands).
- Clean common surfaces such as tables, counters toys, door handles and bathrooms. Use anti-bacterial disinfectants.
- The best way to avoid getting the flu is to get the influenza immunization. You should get the immunization when it becomes available each fall (in October or November), but you can also get it any time throughout the flu season (into December, January and beyond). The immunizations work by exposing your immune system to the flu virus. Your body will build up antibodies to the virus to protect you from getting the flu. The flu shot contains dead viruses. The flu shot is safe for adults and all children 6 months of age and older and it is recommended for everyone over 6 months of age to receive a yearly flu shot. You cannot get the flu from the flu shot. Some people who get the flu shot will still get the flu, but they will usually get a milder case than people who aren’t immunized.
The flu shot is especially recommended for:
- adults 65 years of age and older,
- children six months to 5 years of age,
- pregnant women,
- individuals with chronic medical conditions (heart disease, asthma, diabetes, etc.),
- Indigenous peoples,
- people at high risk of COVID-19 related illness,
- people who live with or care for people in the high-risk groups are also encouraged to get a flu shot because they’re more likely to spread the flu to those in high-risk groups.
Colds and the flu treatment
There’s no cure for the common cold or the flu. Antibiotics do not work against the viruses that cause colds and the flu. You can do some things to ease your symptoms. For a low fever, mild aches, and pains, take products such as acetaminophen (one brand: Tylenol), naproxen (one brand: Aleve) or ibuprofen (one brand: Advil). Drink plenty of fluids. Get as much sleep as you can. Stay home to avoid spreading germs to others.
Your healthcare provider may prescribe an antiviral medicine for the flu. This only shortens the length of time you are sick. These medicines come as pills, syrup or in an inhaler. The inhaled type may cause problems for some people who have asthma or chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD).
When easing a child’s symptoms, acetaminophen (one brand: Children’s Tylenol) can help ease pain and lower a fever. Be sure you are giving your child the correct dose according to their age and weight.
Nasal sprays and decongestants are not recommended for young children, as they may cause side effects. Cough and cold medicines are not recommended for children, especially those younger than 6 years of age. There is also little evidence that cough and cold medicines and nasal decongestants are effective in treating children.
To treat your child’s cold or the flu, make sure your child rests. Give them plenty of fluids. Use a humidifier to moisten the air in your child’s bedroom. This will help with nasal congestion. Use a saline nasal spray to thin nasal mucus. Use a bulb syringe to suction mucus out of your baby or child’s nose.
Living with a cold or the flu
Cold and flu symptoms are uncomfortable. You will not feel well for the time it takes your cold and flu to run its course. Ease your symptoms with rest, fluids, over-the-counter medicine, and blowing your nose.
FOR MORE INFORMATION
Nova Scotia Department of Health and Wellness
Prince Edward Island Department of Health and Wellness
Public Health Agency of Canada