Answers to Cold and Flu Myths: Part 1

Autumn brings about fall colors, cool air, and long nights. While we enjoy the sweater weather, the cooler months also means the onset of cold and flu season. And as any one of our ENTs in Little Rock, North Little Rock, Benton, and surrounding areas will tell you: we’re right in the middle of it.

People tend to mistakenly lump cold and flu together, but there are key differences. Not to mention, there are countless misconceptions about prevention and treatment. In a two-part blog, Arkansas Otolaryngology Center looks at and discusses four common myths about cold and flu:

Is the flu just a bad cold? Flu is much more serious than the common cold. Some people use cold and flu interchangeably, but they are very different—especially considering the flu can turn deadly in serious cases.

Some cold and flu symptoms may overlap, but one of the big differences is how they start. Colds tend to start gradually while flu often makes you feel like you got hit by a bus. Flu symptoms come on swiftly, almost out of nowhere, making you feel achy and tired.

Can you get the flu from the flu shot? Every year we hear about people putting off or not getting a flu vaccination because they are afraid they will get the flu from the shot. This just is not the case because the flu vaccine is not a live virus—you cannot become infected from the vaccination.

Some people may experience mild symptoms after a flu shot, but this is due to other reasons. The flu vaccine takes about two weeks to become fully effective in your body, so it’s possible to be exposed to the virus or some other illness during that time, or right before vaccination. The body could also be having a reaction to the vaccine as your immune system recognizes the foreign bodies from the shot, leaving some people fatigued and achy.

Do I need a flu shot EVERY year? The CDC recommends everyone age 6 months and older get a flu vaccine yearly. Getting a flu vaccine one year does not make you immune to the following year's flu virus.

Each of our body's immune response from vaccination declines over time so a yearly vaccine is needed for optimal protection. The flu is not the same every year either. Different strains of the flu circulate each year and are constantly changing, so the formulation of the flu shot is adapted each year to stay on top of changing flu viruses.

I might get the flu even after the flu shot, so why even get vaccinated? While it is possible to down with the flu even if you've been vaccinated, that's no reason to skip the vaccine. Since the flu vaccine is formulated each year to match the strains of the virus that health officials believe are most likely to circulate in the months ahead, you’re still better off to get a little protection rather than none at all.

Scientists make an educated guess every year about which strains will be circulating based on geographic data, the prevalence of various flu cases, and time. Usually, this data and process are enough. However, if a different flu strain is circulating than what’s in the vaccine this go around, you may still get sick.

Even though the vaccine isn't a good match, it still offers the best available protection against flu. Research shows that people who become sick with the flu experience less severe symptoms if they were vaccinated versus those who were not.

During cold and flu season, always remember that prevention is the number one way to keep from contracting and spreading any illness. If you have questions about the cold and flu, schedule an appointment with your doctor at Arkansas Otolaryngology Center. We have ENT doctors in Little Rock, North Little Rock, Benton, and at satellite clinics around the state!