As we roll into December it just seems to get colder and colder (well over here in the UK at least). Generally, this is not a good time for people trying to follow a fitness regime. High calorie foods such as minced pies and Christmas sweets seem to be coming more and more abundant whilst the cold weather makes it increasingly difficult to get the motivation to do some exercise. On top of this winter and Christmas time seem to bring with them two unpleasant health ailments – the common cold and the flu (also known as influenza). Many people seem to confuse the symptoms of these two conditions but they are completely unique. In this article I will attempt to dispel this confusion and outline the differences between the common cold and the flu.
1) THE COMMON COLD:- The common cold is caused by two main types of virus – rhinoviruses and coronaviruses. These viruses infiltrate the cells in the nose and throat and then rewrite their DNA to mimic them. They then use this DNA to replicate more virus cells allowing the cold to spread.
The symptoms of the common cold are generally uncomfortable but not life threatening or incapacitating. You may feel slightly weak and unwell but in most cases you can function as you normally would. It should not prevent you from going about your day to day tasks. Since the common cold attacks the nose and the throat the symptoms are usually specific to these areas and include:
– Blocked or runny nose.
– Headaches or light headedness.
– Sore or swollen throat.
– Watery eyes.
The common cold is spread by being in contact with infected people. Kissing, touching, breathing, coughing and sneezing are all potential ways that the disease can be transmitted. However, there is no clear evidence as to why people are more susceptible to the common cold during the winter months. Research has been performed into whether being cold makes you more likely to catch one of these cold viruses and the findings suggest it does not. The most sensible theory appears to be that since it is cold during winter, people spend more time indoors and in close proximity which makes it easier for these viruses to spread from one individual to another.
There is currently no cure for the common cold as there are over 200 variations of the virus. Even if you catch a cold today and your body’s immune system adapts to it you could still catch a different variation in the future which your immune system has not yet adapted to. Medications and natural remedies can be used to fight the symptoms but the only way to get over a cold is to stick it out for a few days and let your body’s immune system do its job.
2) THE FLU (INFLUENZA):- The flu is caused by the influenza viruses. These viruses act in a similar way to rhinoviruses and coronaviruses by infiltrating the cells in the nose, throat, windpipe and lungs. The influenza viruses then rewrite the DNA of these cells and use it to replicate, allowing the virus to spread.
In the beginning the symptoms of flu are similar to those of the common cold. However, after a day or two they suddenly become much worse. Whereas a common cold usually comes on gradually, most people can specifically say when they got the flu. You can rarely function properly if you are suffering from the flu and in most cases you will have to rest in bed for a few days. Since the flu infects the windpipes and lungs as well as the nose and throat the symptoms are much more wide reaching and include:
– Muscle aches or pains.
Like with the common cold, flu occurs mainly in the winter months with huge numbers of people around the globe being affected during the cold half of the year in each hemisphere. It is spread by being in contact with someone who has the flu. Again no one is quite sure why it is more prevalent in the winter months but (like with colds) the popular suggestions is that people spend more time indoors and in close proximity during winter so transmission of the flu virus is easier. Other theories include that the virus may survive for longer in cold environments with low humidity and that since people’s vitamin D levels are generally lower in the winter (the body produces its own vitamin D when exposed to sunlight and people normally get little sunlight during winter) this has an impact on their immunity to this disease.
Similarly to the common cold there is no cure for flu because the virus is constantly mutating and new strains become dominant each year. Influenza vaccines (which contain purified and inactive material from a mixture of the most dominant viral strains) and antiviral drugs (special types of drugs can be treating viral infections) can both prove effective ways to protect yourself from the latest types of flu. However, they can never give you complete immunity because there are always new strains developing.
Both the common cold and the flu share a lot of similarities. They are both transmitted through contact with an infected person, they are both viral infections, they are both prevalent in the cold half of the year (although no one is 100% sure why) and at present there is no cure for either. However, whilst the common cold is a relatively mild ailment the flu is a serious disease. Flu is a very painful and dangerous condition which can be fatal. If you suspect that you may have flu or you are worried about contracting flu this Christmas go see your doctor. They will be able to provide you with professional advice on how to best deal with this condition.
I hope this article has helped you determine the differences between the common cold and the flu this Christmas. Hopefully, you, your family and your friends manage to avoid the flu and have a fantastic Christmas. However, if you get a cold don’t make the mistake of saying you have got the flu. One of my pet hates is when people complain they have the flu when all they really have is a sore throat and a runny nose. At least now I can refer them back to this article :-)
As always comments are appreciated. Have I missed any key information out regarding the common cold or the flu? Do you agree with the points made in this article?
Want an early Christmas present? Click the banner below to grab a copy of Lose Weight for the Holidays: