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Posted on: October 7, 2020

Know the signs and symptoms of respiratory illness

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Source: Texas Poison Center Network

The common cold, Influenza (Flu) and COVID-19 are all contagious respiratory illnesses, but they are caused by different viruses. COVID-19 is caused by infection with a new coronavirus (called SARS-CoV-2) and flu is caused by infection with influenza viruses. Because some of the symptoms of flu and COVID-19 are similar, it may be hard to tell the difference between them based on symptoms alone; testing may be needed to help confirm a diagnosis. Flu, COVID-19 and the common cold all share many characteristics, but there are some key differences between them.

Difference between the flu and the common cold?

In general, the flu is worse than the common cold, and symptoms are more common and intense. It can be difficult (or even impossible) to tell the difference between them based on symptoms alone. Special tests are needed, usually within the first few days of illness to determine if a person has the flu.

What are some similarities & differences between the flu & COVID-19?

Both COVID-19 and a flu can have varying degrees of signs and symptoms, ranging from no symptoms (asymptomatic) to severe symptoms. Common symptoms of COVID-19 and flu include:

  • Fever or feeling feverish/chills
  • Cough
  • Shortness of breath or difficulty breathing
  • Fatigue (tiredness)
  • Sore throat Runny or stuffy nose
  • Muscle pain or body aches
  • Headache
  • Some people may have vomiting and diarrhea, though this is more common in children than adults
  • Other signs and symptoms of COVID-19 may include change in or loss of taste or smell.

What can I take to alleviate my symptoms?

  • Since there is no cure for the flu, a cold, or COVID-19, it is important to check with your healthcare provider to receive a proper diagnosis & for appropriate treatment advice. 
  • In general, plenty of rest and drinking lots of fluids are key.
  • Additionally, since antibiotics don't treat a cold, the flu or COVID-19, and although treating your symptoms with over-the-counter medications (OTC) may give you some relief, you should check with your doctor first.
  • For example, if you have the flu, pain relievers such as aspirin, acetaminophen, or ibuprofen may reduce your fever and the aches.
  • OTC decongestants containing pseudoephedrine can help dry and clear nasal passages, but usually only temporarily. 

Before heading to your medicine cabinet or pharmacy, check out these tips on OTC medicines:

All US, over-the-counter (OTC) medicine labels have detailed usage and warning information so consumers can properly choose and use the products appropriately. Below is an example of what the OTC medicine label includes.

  • Active Ingredient: these are the ingredients that make the medicine work
  • Uses:  Symptoms or diseases the product will treat or prevent.
  • Warnings:  When not to use the product; conditions that may require advice from a doctor before taking the product; possible interactions or side effects; when to stop taking the product and when to contact a doctor; if you are pregnant or breastfeeding, seek guidance from a health care professional; keep product out of children's reach.
  • Inactive Ingredients:  Substances such as colors, flavors, preservatives, etc.
  • Purpose:  Product action or category (such as antihistamine, antacid, or cough suppressant.
  • Directions:  Specific age categories, how much to take, how to take, and how often and how long to take.
  • Other Information:  How to store the product properly and required information about certain ingredients (such as the amount of calcium, potassium, or sodium the product contains)

The label also tells you...

  • The expiration date, when applicable (date after which it is not recommended to use the product).
  • Lot or batch code (manufacturer information to help identify the product).
  • Name and address of manufacturer, packer, or distributor.
  • Net quantity of contents (how much of the product is in each package).
  • What to do if an overdose occurs, call poison control immediately at 1-800-222-2222.

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