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Typically, the flu season occurs from fall to early spring – accompanied by sniffling, sneezing, coughing, fatigue, and all the familiar symptoms of the flu. The severity of the illness varies by person, but the COVID-19 pandemic lends a new urgency to protecting ourselves while both of these viruses surge in the coming months. 

What are common flu symptoms?

Below are some of the common symptoms of the flu: 

  • Fever. The flu almost always causes an increase in your body temperature. Most flu-related fevers range from a low-grade fever around 100 degrees to as high as 104 degrees. Although alarming, it’s not uncommon for young children to have higher fevers than adults. If you suspect your child has the flu, see their doctor. 

Signs of a fever include chills, sweats, or being cold despite your body’s high temperature. Most

fevers last for less than 1 week, usually around 3 to 4 days. 

  • Cough. A dry, persistent cough is common with the flu. The cough may worsen, becoming uncomfortable and painful. Many flu-related coughs can last about 2 weeks. 
  • Muscle aches. Flu-related muscle pains are most common in your neck, back, arms, and legs. They can often be severe, making it difficult to move even when trying to perform basic tasks. 
  • Headache. Your first symptom of the flu may be a severe headache. Sometimes symptoms, including light and sound sensitivity, go along with your headache. 
  • Fatigue. Feeling tired is a not-so-obvious symptom of the flu. Feeling generally unwell can be a sign of many conditions. These feelings of tiredness and fatigue may come on fast and be difficult to overcome. 

What’s the difference between a cold and the flu? 

The common cold and the flu may seem similar at first. They’re both respiratory illnesses caused by different viruses but can cause similar symptoms. Both a cold and the flu share a few common symptoms. People with either illness often experience: 

  • Runny or stuffy nose
  • Sneezing
  • Body aches
  • General fatigue

As a rule, flu symptoms are more severe than cold symptoms. Colds rarely cause other health conditions or problems but the flu can lead to: 

  • Sinusitis
  • Ear infections
  • Pneumonia
  • Sepsis 

If your symptoms are severe, you may want to confirm either a cold or flu diagnosis. Your doctor will run tests that can help determine what is behind your symptoms. If your doctor diagnoses a cold, you’ll only need to treat your symptoms until the virus has run its course. These treatments can include: 

  • Using over-the-counter cold medications
  • Staying hydrated
  • Getting plenty of rest 

What’s the difference between the flu and COVID-19? 

The symptoms of COVID-19, the flu, and allergies have some overlap but are often different. The main symptoms of COVID-19 are: 

  • Tiredness
  • Fever
  • Cough
  • Shortness of breath

Flu symptoms are similar to COVID-19 including fever and body aches but you may not find shortness of breath as a symptom with the flu. Allergy symptoms are usually more chronic and include sneezing, coughing, and wheezing. 

What are the treatment options for the flu?

Most cases of the flu are mild enough that you can treat yourself at home without prescription medications. It’s important you stay home and avoid contact with other people when you first notice flu symptoms. You should also:

  • Drink plenty of fluids. This includes water, soup, and low-sugar flavored drinks.
  • Treat symptoms such as headache and fever with OTC medications.
  • Wash your hands to prevent spreading the virus to other surfaces or to other people in your house.
  • Cover your coughs and sneezes with tissues. Immediately dispose of those tissues.
  • Wear a face covering when in public.

If symptoms become worse, call your doctor. They may prescribe an antiviral medication. The sooner you take this medicine, the more effective it is. You should start treatment within 48 hours from when your symptoms start.