| Tue, Nov 15, 2016 @ 09:00 AM

Cold or Flu? How to Tell the Difference

Posted by Medicare Made Clear

seniors-sick-with-flu-or-coldMany people experience telltale signs when they’re “coming down with something.” Maybe it’s a headache, a sore throat, a runny nose, or feeling unusually tired. The next thing they know they have a full-blown cold. Or is it the flu?

Fast, Furious, Feverish Flu

Colds and flu are both viral infections of the upper respiratory tract (the lungs and airways). The early symptoms are similar, which is why it can be hard to tell the two conditions apart. It’s wise to know the differences, though, because while a cold usually runs its course with little fanfare, a flu infection may become severe—even life threatening.

Flu symptoms usually come on quickly. Some people describe it as being “hit with a ton of bricks.” The very idea of getting out of bed may become unthinkable. A cold may drag you down, but the flu can knock you out.

A flu infection is often marked by a high fever, body aches and chills. These may be present with a cold as well, but they would likely be mild by comparison.

Typical cold symptoms include a scratchy throat, a stuffy nose and a cough. These may be present with flu as well, but they would likely be overshadowed by fever, body aches and chills.

Preventing Flu

Health organizations issue warnings about flu and suggestions for preventing it every year, and for good reason. Flu complications, such as pneumonia and bronchitis, are a big concern. This is especially true for older adults and young children who may have weakened immune systems. People with chronic conditions such as asthma, diabetes and heart disease may also be at risk.

An annual flu shot is one way to help protect yourself, your family, your friends and your community. The flu is highly contagious and easily passed from person to person, so the more people who get a flu shot, the more everyone is protected. Washing your hands regularly and thoroughly is also a good way to help prevent picking up or spreading infection. Sing “Happy Birthday” two times while washing your hands to help make sure they’re clean.

Medicare Part B covers an annual flu shot at no additional cost to you as long as your provider accepts Medicare. Flu shots are effective two weeks after they’re given. Many pharmacies give flu shots or you can get one from your doctor.

Flu season generally peaks between November and February. If you haven’t gotten a flu shot yet, it’s not too late. Do it for yourself. Do it for your loved ones.

For more information, explore MedicareMadeClear.com or contact the Medicare helpline 24 hours a day, seven days a week at 1-800-MEDICARE (1-800-633-4227), TTY 1-877-486-2048.


Flu Basics: Get more information about flu from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

Medicare & You: Get the official U.S. government Medicare handbook.

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