Cold, flu and pneumonia: what is the difference?

A dizzy head, constant coughing, stuffy nose and consistent sneezing can all be the symptoms of cold, flu or pneumonia. So how can one possibly tell the difference between these three when their symptoms are just so overlapping and similar in nature? Dr Narendra Prasad, Consultant Physician, Columbia Asia Hospital, Hebbalwill guide us today on how can you tell the difference and when is it time to go to the doctor.

Firstly, understand that you can get pneumonia from a cold: Having a cold basically means upper respiratory infection/ congestion, if not treated on time, it would turn into a lung infection, resulting in pneumonia. It could be influenced by various factors considering age, chronic diseases, immunity status and patient on various treatments like steroids or cancer treatments. Read these here’s how you can protect yourself from pneumonia this winter

The symptoms of common cold might just be slightly different from the symptoms of flu and pneumonia: Common cold and flu are quite similar, except that in flu you may have more of malice, body pain and the symptoms of pneumonia include severe cough, high-grade fever, blood in the sputum known has hemoptysis. The patient can also have pain in the chest because of the pleurisy and these patients would be sicker and week compare to patients with flu or cold. Here’s what should you do if you have symptoms of flu with cough and cold?

But the severity and effect of all three conditions are different: Cold and flu can be self- limiting. The patient can recover with symptomatic medication like paracetamol, cold medications, steam inhalations or home remedies.But, at times, pneumonia requires antibiotics or sometimes hospitalization depending on the severity and the flu course recovers between 5 -7 days while pneumonia may take a little longer than 10 days.

There’s also a difference between the flu and pneumonia: Flu according to the medical terminology is referred to the viral infections, but pneumonia could be viral. Bacterial, fungal or it could be caused due to other types. Flu is generally used to describe, indicate a viral infection, but pneumonia is a lung infection. Read these 8 easy tips to prevent flu

Why does a cold turn into pneumonia?Cold can turn into pneumonia because of:

  • Based on the severity of the cold, or the upper respiratory infection.
  • It’s the bacterial infection, over and above the flu.
  • Depending on age and immune status.
  • And lastly, if the cold or flu has blood on to a sinus congestion or a sinusitis, or tonsillitis, which not being treated on time, it leads to lung infection/ pneumonia.

The preventive measures one must take in all the three cases: It’s important for people diagnosed with common cold to cover themselves with a mask or a tissue which prevents from droplet infection. Avoiding contact with people who have the symptoms of common cold and flu is very necessary. Vaccinating oneself is very essential at the onset of winter season or any season of common cold and flu.Maintaining good health by following a healthy diet, regular exercise and consumption of more of Vitamin C rich fruits and supplements over long term, helps in preventing common cold or flu. People who are diagnosed with common cold should cover themselves with a mask or a tissue to prevent droplet infection.

Image source: Shutterstock

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