Difference Between Flu and Cold Symptoms


When you wake up sneezing, coughing, and have that achy, feverish, can’t move a muscle feeling, how do you know whether you have flu symptoms or the cold? Because flu symptoms are quite similar to cold symptoms, it’s often hard to tell the difference. This article will help you distinguish flu from cold.

What causes the cold?

The cold is a viral infectious disease of the upper respiratory tract which primarily affects the nose. Several hundred different viruses may cause your cold symptoms; the rhinoviruses are the most common.  No cure for the common cold exists, but the symptoms can be treated. Since your doctor cannot cure your cold, there is no reason to see the doctor unless your symptoms last longer than two weeks.  As the immune system gears up over several days and fights the virus, the mucus thickens and changes color with dead cells. Eventually, the immune system eliminates the virus completely and you are well again!

What are cold symptoms?

However, unlike the flu, symptoms are generally mild and in most cases do not lead to any serious health complications. If you have a cold, you’ll probably experience symptoms such as:

A runny or blocked nose


Minor throat irritation

Slight fever (more common in children)

A feeling that your ears are blocked

Coloured mucus or nasal discharge – this means that your immune system is fighting the infection.

How long does a cold last?

Cold symptoms may begin within 16 hours of exposure and typically peak two to four days after onset. Cold symptoms usually last for about a week. During the first three days that you have cold symptoms, you are contagious. This means you can pass the cold to others, so stay home and get some much-needed rest. If cold symptoms do not seem to be improving after a week, you may have a bacterial infection, which means you may need antibiotics.

What causes the flu?

Influenza, commonly known as “the flu”, The common cold eventually fizzles, but the flu may be deadly. Flu is an infectious disease of birds and mammals caused by RNA viruses of the family Orthomyxoviridae, the influenza viruses. Just like cold viruses, flu viruses enter your body through the mucous membranes of the nose, eyes, or mouth. Breathing the air near a person sneezing or coughing may also transmit the virus to you in respiratory droplets you breathe in. Flu can occasionally lead to pneumonia, either direct viral pneumonia or secondary bacterial pneumonia, even for persons who are usually very healthy. Practice good hygiene. Wash your hands often with warm water and soap to get rid of any germs. It very important to keep hands germ-free with frequent washing to prevent both flu and cold symptoms. In addition to hand washing to prevent flu or cold symptoms, you can also get a flu vaccine to prevent seasonal influenza. Most doctors recommend getting the shot in September, at the very start of flu season.

What are the symptoms of the flu?

Recognizing the symptoms of the flu is even more important than recognizing the symptoms of a cold. Seeking treatment from your doctor within the first 48 hours could mean the difference in the length and severity of your flu. Symptoms of flu usually start suddenly with a high fever and you may feel sick enough to go to bed. Symptoms include:

Irritation in the throat or lungs

A dry cough

Fever or chills (although not everyone with the flu will run a fever)



Severe muscle aches

The flu tends to make the whole body ache, whereas the common cold usually affects the nose and throat only.

Some people may experience vomiting and diarrhea, but this is more common in children.

How long does the flu last?

Most healthy adults can fight off flu in three to seven days, during which time they are capable of transmitting the virus to others. Children can be contagious for up to 10 days or even more. If it lasts much longer than two weeks, you may have developed a secondary infection or one of these common flu complications. Contact your doctor right away if your symptoms do not improve, or if they become severe.

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