Do you have a cold, flu or pneumonia?

(NC) Our ability to breathe is often taken for granted until it's compromised. When wintertime illnesses take the air out of your lungs, it helps to know what you have so you can treat it accordingly. While your healthcare provider is the best source of information for your specific disease, here is a cheat sheet from The Lung Association to help you sort through the symptoms and get back to breathing.

Common cold. This is the most common respiratory illness and the least severe one. The common cold is contagious and since it's caused by a virus, no antibiotic will treat it. Symptoms include sore throat, cough that can last up to two weeks, runny nose, congestion, feeling tired and run-down, sneezing, mild headache, mild soreness and achy muscles. Treat the symptoms with over-the-counter medication. If you have a lung disease, do not take cough or cold medicine unless approved by your doctor.

Influenza (flu). Caused by the influenza virus, the flu is more serious than the common cold and infects the lungs, throat and nose. Symptoms include sudden fever or feeling feverish, chills, cough, sore throat, loss of appetite, muscle aches, fatigue, runny nose, sneezing and watery eyes. Talk to your doctor about medication to treat the flu. If you have asthma or COPD, follow the advice in your action plan. You may have to take extra medicine to control your symptoms.

Pneumonia. Unlike the common cold and flu, pneumonia settles in your lungs where the germs, bacteria or virus cause inflammation. This makes breathing a struggle. Of the three diseases, this is the most serious one and should be treated as such. Symptoms include fever, cough, phlegm, shortness of breath, feeling very tired and unwell and chest pain. Antibiotics are the best solution for pneumonia caused by bacteria. Seek medical treatment if you experience difficulty breathing.

All three sicknesses have some similarities in terms of prevention, such as avoiding contact with sick people, washing your hands and quitting smoking. Flu vaccine is also great way to prevent the flu. Two treatments that work for all are plenty of fluids and rest. Not only will rest and staying home from work speed up your recovery, you will avoid spreading your germs further and your co-workers will thank you.

Find more information at www.lung.ca.