Cold or Flu? How to Tell…

Cold and flu (influenza) are both caused by viruses and often their symptoms overlap.

Cold and flu (influenza) are both caused by viruses and often their symptoms overlap.  Their arrival is usually marked by the changing of the seasons with fall and winter taking the biggest hit.  So, how do you know if the misery you’re feeling is a cold or flu?  There are important differences.

First and foremost, cold and flu are caused by different viruses.  Typically, flu symptoms are worse than cold symptoms. You are also far less likely to suffer serious complications from a cold such as pneumonia or bacterial infections.  However, the biggest difference between cold and flu symptoms is that flu more commonly involves a fever of 100 degrees or higher that can last for 3-5 days.

The extremefatigue associated with flu can persist for weeks. Whereas cold symptoms are generally milder and last about 1 week. Sometimes vomiting is present with the flu but is not normally associated with a cold. Runny nose or nasal congestion is more common with cold than flu.

The Common Cold

We all know what it’s like to have a cold.  We’re familiar with the runny nose, sore throat, coughing, sneezing, watery eyes, headache and body aches.  There is no cure for the common cold – with rest and fluids, it should run its course in 7-10 days.  Normally, there is no need to visit a doctor, but if you have a weakened immune system, you are more at risk of developing pneumonia.

Prevention is key when it comes a cold.  Wash your hands regularly and cough or sneeze into a tissue, handkerchief, or your elbow – not your hands. This is the most hygienic as it stops the spread of germs, which cannot live on clothing or surfaces like they can on skin.  The latest research suggests you can boost your immune system during cold season with vitamins C and D.

The Flu

There are three types of flu virus, influenza A, influenza B, and influenza C. Types A and B are the two that cause seasonal epidemics. One of the key symptoms of flu is feeling feverish or having a temperature of 100 degrees or higher. However, not everyone with the flu will have a fever.

Other symptoms include:

  • headaches or body aches
  • vomiting, nausea, and possibly diarrhea, especially in children
  • a sore throat and a cough
  • fatigue
  • chills and shivering
  • a congested or runny nose

The best way to protect against the flu is by getting a flu vaccination.  The flu is highly contagious, so if you do come down with the flu, practice good hand washing hygiene and avoid public places so you don’t contribute to spreading the illness.

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