When it comes to fall, most of us think of cooler temperatures, changing leaves, and the upcoming holiday season. But illnesses are also more common during the fall and winter months, including the flu, colds, and other respiratory illnesses. In fact, the flu alone infects millions of Americans every year, according to the CDC.
While respiratory infections can cause similar symptoms (at least initially), they typically require different treatments to prevent complications and feel better faster. Knowing how to differentiate among different ailments is the first step in making sure you get the right treatment as quickly as possible.
At Triad Primary Care, our team offers complete care for flu, colds, and other illnesses, with an on-site lab, and we provide COVID-19 testing on-site, too. We even offer telehealth to help you get the care you need from the comfort of your own home.
Here’s what we want you to know when questioning if you have the flu or a more serious illness.
Quick facts about the flu
Short for influenza, flu is a respiratory illness caused by a virus. Every year, multiple flu viruses circulate, with some virus strains being a lot more common than others. Having a flu vaccine yearly helps your body fight the most prevalent strains of influenza, but it can’t prevent infections from all flu strains.
Like other respiratory viruses, the flu virus primarily spreads through tiny airborne droplets that form when an infected person coughs, sneezes, or even speaks. Those droplets contain flu germs, and when you breathe them in, you can also become infected. Less commonly, the flu can be spread by touching a surface that’s contaminated with the virus.
Perhaps because the flu is so common, many people mistakenly believe it’s not a big deal. But the flu can lead to serious complications, some of which can be life-threatening. If you think you have the flu, it’s important to seek medical treatment early to prevent possible complications, like pneumonia, heart or brain inflammation, organ failure, or even death.
Symptoms to look for
If you have the flu, your symptoms can include:
- Muscle aches
- Sore throat
- Nasal congestion or runny nose
- Significant fatigue
- Vomiting or diarrhea
Not everyone has all of these symptoms, but in most cases, the symptoms you do have develop rapidly.
Flu vs. other ailments
Flu, colds, COVID-19, pneumonia, respiratory syncytial virus (RSV), and other respiratory infections can all cause similar symptoms initially. Over time, each illness tends to differentiate itself in terms of the type of symptoms you experience, their severity, their duration, and other factors.
So how can you tell if what you’re experiencing is the flu or something else? You can usually know by looking for unusual symptoms associated with other illnesses, which can include:
- Difficulty breathing
- Shortness of breath
- Chest pain
- Severe vomiting
- High fever
- Loss of taste or smell
Any of these symptoms indicate a need for prompt medical testing and evaluation.
It’s also important to think about potential exposures to illnesses. For example, if you recently spent time with a friend who now has the flu or COVID-19, it’s reasonable to suspect your symptoms could be a result of that contact. The same is true if you recently visited an area where a specific illness or infection is common.
Finally, consider your own health history. If you have COPD or heart disease, for instance, your symptoms could be related to that underlying chronic medical condition, especially if you don’t have a fever or vomiting.
Bottom line: The best way to determine what’s causing your symptoms is to schedule a visit with us, so we can evaluate you and recommend treatment that can relieve your symptoms and help prevent potential complications. Seeking prompt medical attention is especially important if you have a weakened immune system due to age or underlying medical issues.
If you have any of the symptoms discussed here, schedule an evaluation. Call 336-286-5505 or book an appointment online with us at Triad Primary Care today.