A couple of factors are at play that bring illnesses in colder weather. The U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) believes it’s because we spend more time inside with other people when it’s cold outside. It makes sense that you would be exposed to more viruses when the weather is chilly, and the winter months are known as “cold and flu season.”
Unfortunately, it’s not always easy to know what type of bug you’ve caught, because many common ones have similar symptoms. In the helpful breakdown below, AdventHealth experts explain the differences among the main types of winter illnesses, what to do if you catch one, and when it’s time to go to your doctor for help.
In 2020, you should also learn how to differentiate between common winter illnesses and COVID-19.
If you have a dry cough that progresses into one that’s full of mucus along with wheezing, fatigue, tightness in your chest, and a mild fever, you may have bronchitis.
It occurs when the air passages in your lungs become inflamed, and it’s contagious.
Please wash your hands frequently, and avoid coughing into them and then touching things to keep it from spreading. Consult with your healthcare provider to determine the best treatment especially if you have any chronic underlying lung disorder.
Influenza (the flu)
One of the most common winter ailments is the flu. It’s contagious and generally makes you feel awful, because it affects your lungs, throat, and sinuses.
If you get the flu, you could experience symptoms like a high fever, body aches, chills, a cough, and a lack of energy. Influenza lasts for a week or two in most people, but severe cases could land you in the hospital if you don't rest and recover. In extreme cases, it can be fatal.
You can prevent the flu by getting a seasonal flu shot. If you get sick, speak to your doctor right away. An antiviral treatment can shorten your symptoms, but it needs to be taken in the 12- to 48-hour window after you first show symptoms. Only your doctor can determine if the prescription is right for you.
If you have an earache that just won’t stop and are also experiencing fever, chills, a stuffy nose, nausea, muffled hearing, and drainage, you might have otitis media.
This condition happens when the lining of your ear swells and builds up fluid, which causes an infection.
The treatment will vary depending on what caused the problem. If it’s bacterial, your doctor will prescribe an antibiotic. Speak to your primary care physician if you suspect this illness, so you can get started with treatment and avoid any complications.
Pharyngitis, also known as a sore throat, happens when your pharynx gets inflamed. It’s often the result of an upper respiratory infection but could have many different causes.
You could have caught a virus, or you might have a bacterial infection like strep throat.
Visit your doctor, and they will swab your throat to determine if an antibiotic will give you some relief.
If you have a stuffy nose due to inflammation, then you might have sinusitis. The symptoms mimic a common cold, and many people develop sinusitis as a result of catching a cold.
The main difference is how long the symptoms will last. A cold is usually gone in about a week, but sinusitis can last for weeks or even months if you don’t get it treated.
If you have a persistent stuffy nose, visit your doctor to see if it’s a bacterial infection that you can cure with a round of antibiotics.
Upper Respiratory Infection (URI)
A URI, which is the same as a common cold, is any infection in your chest and head caused by a virus. It could show up in your nose, throat, head, sinuses, and ears.
It’s contagious, and you can catch one if you are around someone who is sneezing, coughing, or touching you with the virus on their hands.
No antibiotic can cure a cold, but washing your hands frequently and avoiding contact with others who are sick will reduce your risk of catching one.
When to See a Doctor
If you’re feeling under the weather, it’s always best to consult with your doctor to receive a diagnosis and treatment plan. Some common symptoms of illnesses that require medical attention include: