It's More Than "Just The Flu"
What Are the Symptoms?
The symptoms of flu are generally much worse than just a bad cold. The symptoms of influenza
A and B viruses are similar. Influenza A is generally more severe, however,
and five times as many people with it require hospitalization compared to those
with influenza B. Most patients present with a classic flu-like syndrome: sudden
onset of fever, chills, fatigue, headache, muscle aches, weakness, fatigue, sore throat, dry cough,
and decreased appetite. Early in the course of illness, patients appear flushed,
and the skin is hot and moist. Fainting may occur in severe cases. Among the
elderly, fever is common, although it may not rise as high as it does in children
and young adults. Fever usually rises rapidly on the first day along with the
other symptoms. The most troublesome initial symptoms are often head and muscle
aches, which are often related to the severity of the fever. Joint pains, but
not frank arthritis, are also common. Visual symptoms may also develop in one
of five patients: looking sideways may cause pain in the eyes, bright lights
may be disturbing (called "photophobia"), and eyes may appear red and watery or even
start to burn. Respiratory symptoms
(i.e., dry cough and a clear runny nose) are usually present at the beginning
of the flu, but are overshadowed by the other, systemic symptoms. Nasal congestion,
hoarseness, and a dry or sore throat may also occur.
Small, tender cervical lymph nodes develop
in about one in 4 patients.
On the second and third days of illness, the fever begins to decrease, along
with the systemic symptoms. However, as symptoms and signs decline, respiratory
complaints and findings, especially cough, increase. The cough, which is nonproductive,
may be accompanied by chest discomfort or burning. Scattered wheezes or
localized crackles are heard in one of five patients. Nasal obstruction and
discharge can occur with throat pain and redness. These symptoms and signs
usually persist for 3 to 4 days after the fever subsides, although full recovery
can take 2 weeks or more.
Numerous complications, especially pneumonia and severe bronchitis, can occur
in elderly patients with influenza. The rate of complications is low in patients
under 50 years old but increases progressively with age and is high in those
70 years old and over. The pneumonia may be a consequence of a primary influenza
viral infection or secondary bacterial infection. Primary influenza pneumonia
most often affects persons with cardiovascular disease. Other chronic illnesses
may increase risk as well. Healthy adults of any age may develop this deadly
syndrome, although it occurs infrequently.
Gastrointestinal symptoms, such as nausea, vomiting, and diarrhea, are rare in adults with the flu. What some people call "stomach flu" is actually the result of another virus.
How Can You Tell if it's a Cold or the Flu?
Symptoms of the Flu
Symptoms of a Cold
||high (over 101 F); lasts 3-4 days
||nonproductive; can become severe
||characteristic; can be severe
||early and prominent
|Can last 2-3 weeks
||mild to moderate