Pediatrics | Published September 30, 2019

Decoding symptoms: cold versus flu

The flu is caused by a respiratory virus that can spread rapidly from person to person. Flu season can begin as early as October and run as late as May. Flu symptoms include:

  • Body aches
  • Sudden fever (usually around 101 degrees or more)
  • Headache
  • Fatigue
  • Chills
  • Dry cough
  • Stuffy/running nose

Some children may throw up, but vomiting is not typically a symptom of the flu. While some flu symptoms may seem similar to cold symptoms, they are often more severe and come on suddenly and last up to a week or longer. They best way to treat the flu is with rest and plenty of liquids. Ibuprofen or acetaminophen can relieve aches, but shouldn’t be given to children that are throwing up or dehydrated. Never give your child aspirin if your child has the flu, as it may increase the risk of developing Reye syndrome. If the flu is identified within the first one to two days of symptoms, your child’s doctor may decide whether your child should be treated with an antiviral medicine. If your child has a medical condition such as asthma, diabetes, sickle cell disease or cerebral palsy, and you think he or she may have the flu, contact his or her doctor right away.

The best way to protect you and your family against the flu is to get a flu shot. Mount Nittany Physician Group will offer flu clinics at all primary care locations beginning October 7, 2019. Appointments are preferred, but walk-ins are accepted. Click here to view a complete list of locations and schedules.

Cold and seasonal flu symptoms often seem the same. Use the information below to help you and your family fight cold and flu season.

The common cold, which is caused by a virus, typically presents with the following symptoms:

  • Sore throat
  • Coughing with mucus
  • Stuffy nose
  • Headache
  • Minor aches/pains
  • Fatigue
  • Sneezing
  • Possible mild fever

Cold symptoms usually start a couple of days before they become full-blown, and typically last around one to two weeks before getting better. While there isn’t a cure for the common cold, there are ways to help alleviate symptoms. Over-the-counter medicines such as ibuprofen or acetaminophen can relieve headaches or fevers. If your child is older than three, cough drops can help with a sore throat. Remember to have your child rest when he or she does not feel well. It is also important to keep him or her hydrated with water, decaffeinated tea or 100 percent fruit juice.