5 On Your Side

Flu or cold? How to tell, how to treat it

Posted February 12, 2019 5:45 p.m. EST
Updated February 13, 2019 10:09 a.m. EST

It can be hard to tell if you have the flu or just a nasty cold, but one tell-tale sign can help you know the difference and treat the symptoms properly.

According to Consumer Reports, the flu hits its victims fast.

"It hits you like a ton of bricks," said Ellen Kunes, a health editor with Consumer Reports. "It comes on so fast. It can come on in a few hours."

If you have the flu, you'll likely feel feverish or have a fever along with chills, muscle aches and extreme tiredness. Cold symptoms are similar, but more mild, and include a runny or stuffy nose, a cough, a sore throat and fatigue.

The other big difference is that cold symptoms are bearable -- you can still function and, usually, go to work.

"With the flu you really can't," said Kunes. "You want to go to bed. You just feel like you can't move."

If you suspect you have the flu, check with your doctor's office to see if you're a candidate for anti-viral medicine. Tamiflu and the new antiviral on the market, Xofluza, work best if taken within 24 to 48 hours of getting symptoms, and they may shorten the duration of the flu by one or two days.

Xofluza only requires one dose, while Tamiflu is taken twice a day for five days.

Keep in mind, though, that both flu medicines are expensive. With a coupon, Tamiflu will cost about $50, while Xofluza will run about $30 (depending on what your insurance company covers).

While the flu season is well underway, the CDC says it's still not too late to get vaccinated. If you have flu symptoms, avoid spreading the germs at all costs.

"If you do have the flu, do everyone a favor and call in sick," said Kunes.