Both are respiratory diseases that you can catch after inhaling infected air droplets from a sick person’s cough or sneeze, but they are caused by different types of viruses. The common cold is caused by viral infection of the nose, throat and upper respiratory tract. The flu is caused by three types of flu viruses—types A, B and C—that attack the respiratory system.
Cold symptoms tend to be milder and include low-grade fever, chills, tiredness, muscle aches, cough and a runny nose. Flu symptoms tend to develop fast (within three to six hours) and are usually more severe.
Although cold and flu symptoms generally resolve themselves in one to two weeks, look out for complications. If you have a high fever accompanied by aches and fatigue lasting more than 10 days, vomiting, abdominal pain, severe headache, difficulty in breathing and persistent cough with coloured phlegm, make sure you consult a doctor.
Western Medicine: Treatment for colds usually targets the symptoms. The doctor may prescribe antipyretics, antihistamines and antitussives to relieve fever, runny nose and cough respectively. Occasionally, antibiotics may be necessary. Flu causes more severe symptoms than the common cold. Besides these medicines, the doctor may also prescribe antiviral antibiotics such as Tamiflu. Choey suggests other nonmedicinal remedies: hot liquids to relieve nasal congestion, gargling with salt water to relieve sore throats, and flushing your nasal passages to ease congestion.
Traditional Chinese Medicine: The symptoms of colds and flus are actually a result of the battle between the protective qi and pathogenic factors, which fall into six groups, namely Wind, Heat, Dampness, Fire, Dryness and Cold.
Colds and flus are differentiated by patterns of disharmony and root causes. The most common patterns are Wind-Heat (symptoms include high body temperature, difficulty in sweating and yellowish phlegm), Wind-Cold (slight fever, itchy throat and a cough with clear mucus) and Dampness (feeling ‘heaty’ with mild sweating, fatigue, lethargy and occasional chest tightness).
Treatment focuses on restoring your protective qi’s equilibrium to optimise your body’s natural resistance and healing ability. Generally, this involves removing the excess and replenishing the deficiency in the problem areas. A number of herbs—including Astragalus root, Solomon’s Seal rhizome and Cordyceps— are commonly used to reinforce qi.
Homeopathy: Homeopathy emphasises treating the underlying imbalance in the immune system rather than fighting the infection. Patients with acute conditions and recurrent flu or cold will need customised constitutional homeopathy treatment, which uses natural herbs and plants to reduce the recurring attacks and build resistance and immunity. Balekundri advises you to start by changing your diet: “Eat food containing phytochemicals, such as dark green, red and yellow vegetables. Studies also show that eating a cup of low-fat yogurt daily can reduce your susceptibility to colds by 25%.” Relaxation techniques to reduce stress, such as meditation and yoga, are also beneficial.
Photo courtesy of Thinkstock. This article first appeared in NATURA magazine issue No.1. Find NATURA at Eu Yan Sang retail outlets, newsstands and major bookstores in Singapore.