Urgent Care for Colds and Flu
Cold or flu? Differentiating these two can be difficult because the symptoms are similar. In fact, our providers sometimes need to perform a series of tests to clearly identify whether you are battling a cold or the flu.
A clear way to identify the difference between the two is by how long the symptoms last. While a cold is often over after just a few days, the flu can last several weeks.
Flu symptoms are usually much more intense as well, while cold symptoms tend to be milder.
Symptoms to watch out for include:
- runny nose and congestion (more common in colds than in flu cases)
- fever only if you have the flu
- muscle aches
- vomiting and diarrhea (usually present only in cases of swine flu)
Colds very rarely change into anything more serious, so symptoms usually become milder after just a few days. The flu, however, can lead to bronchitis, pneumonia and even sinus infections if not treated properly. The elderly are especially at risk for complications, but so are children and people with health issues such as asthma. If you suspect you might have the flu, rather than just a common cold, the best thing you can do is talk to a provider.
There’s no vaccine against the common cold, but you can lower your risks of getting sick by washing your hands regularly during the cold season. The flu vaccine is not mandatory, but being vaccinated every year is a good way to lower your chances of getting sick. We offer the flu shot at our urgent care Rockville, MD office, so give us a call if you need to get vaccinated. The best time to do this is around August or September, so there’s time for your body to build immunity before the flu season starts.
Most providers diagnose a cold or the flu based on your symptoms. For example, the presence of a high fever usually indicates you have the flu, rather than just a cold. If there’s any doubt, your provider can request a “rapid influenza diagnostic test,” which is usually performed by swabbing the back of your nose. This type of tests can help determine which viruses your body is carrying, so your provider can best determine how to treat you.
If you have been diagnosed with the flu, our provider might prescribe antiviral drugs. These prescription drugs help you get better faster and also make your symptoms more bearable as your body heals. Antiviral drugs can also help prevent complications of colds and flu, and are an essential tool in preventing walking pneumonia symptoms.
However, providers recommend starting treatment as soon as possible after getting sick, so it’s important that you talk to a provider as soon as you notice the first symptoms. The longer you wait to start taking antiviral drugs, the slower the results and the higher the risk of complications.
To treat a common cold, your provider is likely to recommend just rest and drinking lots of fluids. You might also take over-the-counter medications such as antihistamines to help control sneezing and alleviate a stuffy nose or cough. Steam inhalation, where you sit with your head over a steaming bowl or bucket of water, can help relieve congestion and help you breathe better. There are no prescription drugs available to treat the common cold.