The chills, the fever, the sniffling, the aches. Cold and flu season is no fun. The key to finding relief may be in first knowing what causes them so you can take steps to avoid them, second, to know when its coming and finally, determining if its a cold, flu or something totally different.

Causes of Cold and Flu

Colds are caused by one of about 100 different viruses. They enter the body through mucous membranes in the nose, mouth and eyes. When the virus gets into the adenoids in the back of the nose, it starts to multiply and spread. Thats when the body starts to react. The coughing and sneezing are the bodys way of trying to get rid of this nastiness.

Flu is caused by the influenza virus. Instead of staying in the head, the influenza virus makes its way into the bronchial tubes and lungs.

Signs of Cold and Flu

A cold usually starts with a scratchy, sore throat. Thats your first warning sign that its time to start resting and loading up on the fluids and vitamins.

With the flu you have less warning. Flu symptoms generally strike quickly and come on with a vengeance.

Symptoms of Cold and Flu

The biggest difference between the two is that a cold is milder in nature. Colds usually last for a few days while the flu may have you sidelined for up to a few weeks. The flu can also turn more serious, even dangerous, if not addressed.

As mentioned above, a cold starts with a sore throat most of the time. After that, it starts to spread to the nose and the lungs. Youll likely experience stuffed, runny nose followed by congestion. Expect that to last for a few days. Then the cough may kick in around day four or five. You may also get a mild fever. Its rare in adults but not unheard of. A fever is more common in kids.

Then there are the miserable flu symptoms. Symptoms of flu may also include a sore throat, but on top of that youre likely to experience a fever, muscle aches, chest congestion and hacking cough. These extreme symptoms tend to resolve themselves in a few days, but the fatigue and aches may linger for a week or two.

In extreme cases, especially in the elderly, flu can turn into pneumonia and become more dangerous. If you notice shortness of breath, contact your physician immediately as this can be an indication of pneumonia.

You can take steps to reduce your risk of getting a cold or flu.
* The best course of action is frequent hand washing.
* Use soap and warm water and wash for at least 20 seconds.
* You can also lower the chance of the virus getting into your body by keeping your hands away from your mouth, nose and eyeswhere the virus gets in.
* The flu vaccine can also reduce your risk of getting the flu.

And, if you do end up getting sick, do everyone at work a favor, and stay home! This is the best way to reduce the risk of spreading germs. Your co-workers will thank you!