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Colds, flu or pneumonia?

Updated: Jul 26, 2023

'Tis the season for colds and flu. We have all been there, at one point or another. It is as old as time, and these are often confused between each other. Is this blog, I will describe the differences and ways to manage.

The common cold is exactly that, its common. There are more than 200 types of cold viruses, rhinovirus being the most common. It usually incubates fro 2-3 days before symptoms start, such as sneezing, runny nose, sore throat and shouldn't last more than 10 days. This is a common cause of an upper respiratory infection, from the throat upwards.

The flu, or influenza virus can come in many forms, of which there are 4 main groups. The symptoms are more severe than with a cold. Flu viruses can be deadly, especially in an immunocompromised group. Symptoms include fevers, aches and pain, coughing and fatigue being common. Sometimes a flu virus can cause an upper or lower respiratory infection. They can last a lot longer than a cold.

Pneumonia is a lower respiratory chest infection, meaning it is in the lungs. Viruses are a common cause but so are bacterial infections. So to explain it simply, the illnesses of an upper or lower respiratory infection are caused by usually a virus or bacteria. This is why antibiotics are not always useful or needed as they only act against bacterial infections. You may also start with a virus and get a secondary bacterial infection because you are more vulnerable.

So what should you do when you start feeling sick?

  • Boost with vitamins.

  • Hydrate, hydrate, hydrate

  • Stay at home, stay warm and recover, if you must work, again, stay at home

  • Manage symptoms, over the counter medications as needed

Emergency warning signs:

  • Difficulty breathing

  • Lips and face turning blueish

  • Ribs and chest pain with breathing

  • severe body pain, difficulty walking

  • Dehydration

  • Confusion, disorientation

  • Seizures

  • uncontrolled high fevers

My go too management:

  • Water, vitamins, orange juice

  • Lots of soups

  • Check heart rate and oxygen saturation with a pulse oximeter

  • Over the counter meds as needed for symptom relief

  • See the Dr if the fever does not go or symptoms improve in a week.

Managing Pneumonia is different. You will likely need antibiotics, sometimes hospitalisation and chest physiotherapy. Chest physiotherapy aims to loosen sputum and help you cough it out and breath more easily. Antibiotics are needed if you have a bacterial infection. There is controversy about the over prescription of antibiotics leading to the current super-bug crisis.

Most importantly, if you can, have your annual flu vaccine to minimise risk and symptoms if you do become ill.

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