Discerning Between Winter Illnesses

Winter brings snow, holiday gifts and crisp temperatures. Unfortunately, it also brings sickness as people stay cooped up inside and share germs easily. We’ve all had that dreadful sensation of waking up with a sore throat, runny or stuffed up nose or pounding head. Then come the familiar questions: What do I have? How soon will it pass? Do I need to see the doctor? What medications will make me feel better?

Winter Illnesses

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Here are a few guidelines for determining what you’re suffering with and how to get the best treatment.



  • Runny or congested nose
  • Cough
  • Sore throat
  • Irritated eyes


  • Same symptoms as cold
  • May be accompanied by fever and chills
  • May be accompanied by body aches


Colds tend to last for about a week. Make sure to stay inside during the first few days of your illness, as that is when you are most contagious. Flu usually hangs around for three to seven days, but certain side effects (such as coughing) can linger for weeks. Flu victims are the most contagious one to four days after onset.


A cold is caused by a virus, so there’s no treatment. You can try medications such as nasal sprays or antihistamines to mitigate the symptoms, but they won’t change the virus itself. Stay home to avoid infecting others, get plenty of rest, wash your hands often, eat nutritious foods and wait it out.

Managing the flu is similar to managing a cold. Flu typically subsides in several days, and the best treatment is often just to stay home, drink plenty of liquids and get rest. You can take medications such as ibuprofen to help with fever and aches. While it’s not necessary to see a doctor for standard flu symptoms, you should be seen if you have trouble breathing, a high fever (usually 103° or higher), excessive vomiting or dehydration. Flu can spiral into pneumonia, which requires immediate medical attention.


These illnesses can also be confused with allergies. While people tend to think of allergies as occurring in spring or fall, they can also develop in winter due to increased exposure to indoor allergens such as dust or pet dander.

Allergy symptoms are similar to some cold and flu symptoms, including coughing and a stuffed-up or runny nose. But while cold and flu usually subside after seven days, allergies can last for weeks at a time. If you suspect that you have allergies, consider physician-directed treatment in the form of allergy shots or sublingual immunotherapy drops.

The two forms of immunotherapy are highly effective for long-term allergy relief, but sublingual immunotherapy, which is administered as liquid drops under the tongue, is safer and more convenient. Visit a sublingual immunotherapy clinic to learn more.