Imagine you’re sitting at home on a Sunday night, face mask applied, Netflix on repeat, when you feel the slightest tickle in your throat. Thinking nothing of it, you gargle a bit of salt water before bed and sleep through the night, only to wake up with totally swollen glands and — *gasp* — a stuffy, dripping nose. Small inconveniences like a sore throat and stuffy nose can indicate the first signs of the flu, but many people commonly mistake these red flags for an oncoming head cold. Treating these symptoms by simply popping a cough drop on your way to class can lead to more severe symptoms like muscle aches, high fever, and fatigue. Trust me, if there’s anything worse than catching the flu, it’s catching it and mistaking it for something less serious.
And, unfortunately, this flu season is nothing to mess around with. Of course, this isn't to say mistakes don’t happen. One of the biggest issues when it comes to definitively diagnosing the flu is that the symptoms can be traced back to countless illnesses, so while you or your doctor may not want to jump to conclusions, you also don’t want to nurse a problem that doesn’t exist. It's counterproductive and could, potentially, make you even more sick than you initially were.
On the plus side, because these types of symptoms are so common, there are more known tried-and-true remedies out there to ward off germs before they have the chance to fester and spread. Of course, the first thing you should do at the first sign of these symptoms is make an appointment with your doctor.
Normally I’m the type of person to suggest holding off to see if a stuffy nose really is just a stuffy nose, but considering this year’s H3N2 causes more fatalities than any other, I definitely would not take any chances. I'm not trying to freak you out guys; I'm just looking out for your best interest. Here are the first signs of the flu to look out for this season.
As I mentioned before, the real trick to identifying whether or not you're experiencing signs of influenza is to measure the severity of these symptoms in comparison with the common cold.
When you feel a little sniffly, post-nasal drip can slowly cause your glands to swell up. When you have the flu, Healthline reports, your throat is going to feel a bit scratchy at first, but will quickly become irritated, making it very uncomfortable to swallow.
Personally, I'm so confused by the temperatures of the human body. There have been plenty of times I've complained to my husband that I'm burning up, and he'll check my forehead for warmth, and my skin will feel cool as a cucumber.
According to Healthline, though, there's no second-guessing a flu-related fever. Not everyone who comes down with influenza will develop a fever, but if they do, it'll most likely be around 100 degrees Fahrenheit, or even higher.
Some of the most common flu symptoms are a combination of body aches and chills — aka the worst feeling ever. Ryan Welter, MD, PhD, owner of Tristan Medical in Massachusetts, says that early symptoms of the flu, such as body aches and chills, will often "overshadow" signs of the common cold, so there's a clear-cut red flag for you.
"If you develop cough and congestion, and think you have a cold, but suddenly develop fatigue and body aches or a high fever, you better get checked out for the flu," he tells Elite Daily.
According to Dr. Marc Siegel, a professor of medicine and medical director at NYU Langone Health, when you come down with the flu, your body is essentially under attack, and has a “hyper immune inflammatory response.” In other words, your insides are in a frenzy, trying to fight off the germs, so everything is going to feel off.
“When you’re talking about the flu versus a cold,” he tells Elite Daily, “the biggest difference is that when you have the flu, you can’t even walk around, whereas with a cold, you can.”
Not everyone who catches the flu will be coughing up a storm, BTW, but whenever mucus is blocking up your airways, it's likely that your body will respond by hacking it all up, for lack of a better phrase.
Richard Streiffer, MD, professor and chair of the Department of Family and Community Medicine at the Tulane University School of Medicine, told Everyday Health that if your nose is runny, your throat is sore, and you're coughing, "it's viral and it will take longer to get better." Lovely, right?
Of course, it's very possible that you just have an annoying tickle in your throat that you just can't shake, but once you notice that that tickle is accompanied by other symptoms, that's probably a pretty clear sign you need to see a doctor.