“Colds and the flu have so much in common that it can sometimes be hard to tell them apart” reads the website WebMD. Both are caused by viruses that infect your airways and they share several symptoms. However, there are enough differences that can usually help you figure out which one your client or patient has. That can make a difference in what you do to treat the symptoms and prevent complications.

According to Flu.gov, “As you age, your immune system weakens. This makes adults 65 years and older more likely to get the flu. For seniors, the seasonal flu can be very serious, even deadly. Ninety percent of flu-related deaths and more than half of flu-related hospitalizations occur in people age 65 and older.”

The Center for Disease Control (CDC) says that people with certain medical conditions, particularly asthma, diabetes or chronic heart disease, are at a greater risk of complications from the flu, including pneumonia. Even the common cold can become serious in an individual with a weak immune system. Untreated, a cold can lead to sinus infection, a nonstop cough, bronchitis, or ear infection.

The best way to treat a cold or flu is to not get it in the first place. However, if the flu is diagnosed, doctors may prescribe an antiviral medication that can decrease symptoms and shorten the illness by a few days. The vaccine can also prevent serious complications such as pneumonia.

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