Ah-choo! Youâ€™re bound to hear that sound â€” along with sniffling, coughing, and nose-blowing â€” every winter when cold-and-flu season sprinkles its misery on just about everyone.
Up to 20 percent of Americans get the flu every year, and Americans suffer one billion colds. Children get colds and the flu more often than adults. Some kids get as many as 12 colds a year, while adults average two to four, according to the Harvard Medical School Guide to the Common Cold.
A cold and the flu are both caused by viruses, tiny infectious agents that can survive only by getting inside the cells of animals or humans.
One of the differences between a cold and the flu is the kind of virus that causes each. The flu, medically known as influenza, is always caused by one of the influenza viruses. Colds (also known as viral rhinitis, nasopharyngitis or nonspecific upper respiratory infections), on the other hand, can be caused by more than 200 different viruses â€” and that estimate includes only the viruses doctors know about.
The viruses that cause as many as 50 percent of colds in adults have not even been identified. The biggest offender, called the rhinovirus, causes up to 40 percent of colds and has about 100 distinct types, according to Harvard researchers.
Is it a Cold or the Flu?
Symptoms of the common cold typically appear one to three days after exposure to a cold virus. The symptoms of runny nose, cough, nasal congestions, sore throat, sneezing, watery eyes, headache, body aches and fever can make us miserable.
Flu symptoms can be mild or severe, and can come on suddenly. Symptoms generally appear one to four days after exposure to the virus.
Symptoms of the flu include chills, fever, aches and extreme tiredness and may include nausea, vomiting and other gastrointestinal problems.
These viruses are contagious and can be passed from one person to another.
Curb the Spread of Colds and Flu
Frequent hand washing can help curb the spread of the viruses that cause colds and flu. Hand sanitizers can also help. Avoid touching your eyes, nose or mouth to keep germs away. Covering a cough with a tissue or coughing into the elbow helps reduce exposure of others.
Build a Strong Defense
Your immune system is your best defense against the viruses that can lay you low. Keep it strong with a lifestyle that includes regular exercise, a healthy diet that includes plenty of fresh vegetables and fruits, lots of water and vitamins and nutritional supplements to so that your bodyâ€™s defenses are always strong and working effectively.
In addition to lifestyle, some supplements and nutrients in specific foods are especially well-known for their effectiveness in boosting the immune system and helping to ward off the viruses that cause colds and flu, or treat their symptoms. Here is a partial list.
Probiotics can help balance the immune system, helping it to function at peak efficiency.
Vitamin C and Zinc have been found to help bolster immune function, which may protect against the viruses or may help shorten the duration of a cold or the flu.
Garlic has been used in many cultures to help bolster immune function. Researchers in one study reported the use of garlic reduced the incidence of colds in participants by half and shortened recovery time for people who caught a cold.