a cold, the flu or pneumonia _ mercy health blog
Healthy Living

How Do You Know if it’s a Cold, the Flu or Pneumonia?

Feb 20 2018

When you’re feeling lousy, it can be difficult to know when it’s time to visit the doctor. With the common cold, there’s often not much you can do beyond treating the symptoms. The influenza virus or worse yet, pneumonia, can be much more serious if not properly diagnosed. The problem? The symptoms of all three are very similar, making it difficult to tell the difference if you have a cold, the flu or pneumonia.

Symptoms of the common cold

The common cold is not a serious illness, but it can cause annoying symptoms, which can help easily spread to those around you. Symptoms may include:

  • Coughing and a sore throat
  • Stuffy or runny nose
  • Sneezing
  • Watery eyes
  • Mild muscle aches and headaches
  • Low or no fever

Individuals with a cold usually feel run down for a couple of days and are able to treat their symptoms with over-the-counter remedies like cough syrup and cold medications.

Symptoms of influenza

The flu, on the other hand, hits fast and hard. There is a vaccine to help prevent the flu, and medication can help reduce the severity of the flu’s symptoms. These often include:

  • Extreme fatigue and muscle aches
  • Headaches
  • No appetite
  • High and sudden fever
  • Chills and sweats
  • Stuffy nose and cough

Read about more ways to boost your immune system during flu season here.

Symptoms of pneumonia

Pneumonia is typically caused by a bacterial infection, although there are viral strains as well. Bacterial pneumonia is treatable with antibiotics and patients typically start feeling better within several days on the medication. Diagnosis is often made following an examination that may include a chest x-ray.

The illness can be very serious and even life threatening for some, including the elderly, very young children and those with chronic lung conditions. Vaccinations are available for high-risk patients.

Symptoms may include:

  • Coughing up mucus or blood
  • Extreme and debilitating fatigue
  • Chest pain that increases when you cough
  • High fever
  • Inability to breathe deeply
  • Difficulty breathing
  • Chills
  • Frequent sweating and clammy skin
  • No appetite

When to visit a doctor

The common cold is typically not a serious illness and it goes away within a few days. The flu and pneumonia can have serious and long-lasting effects if undiagnosed. If you are experiencing severe symptoms as noted above, don’t hesitate to make an appointment with your doctor.

Remember that vaccines are available for both the flu and pneumonia – if you are at risk, make plans to get one annually. By taking proper precautions and talking with your doctor, you can return to full health – and easier breathing – quickly. Mercy Health not only offers vaccines, but our expert and compassionate caregivers can help you diagnose your illness. If you want to stop wondering if you have a cold, the flu or pneumonia, make an appointment today. Call 513-952-5000 or visit mercy.com to get in touch with a provider near you.


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