Cold and Flu – The Difference and Their Treatment

You probably know that both the common cold and flu are contagious infections that cause distress to the respiratory tract. Now, you will understand that the two are not the same and are caused by entirely different viruses. While flu is caused by influenza viruses only, the common cold is caused by about 200 other viruses, but the most common one is rhinoviruses. The closeness of cold and flu symptoms made it difficult to tell the difference between them. However, the associated complications and the severity of the symptoms can help differentiate between them.


Symptoms of cold

The symptoms of the common cold are milder and usually self-resolving. The symptoms include sore throat, stuffy or runny nose, cough, and fever. Fever is uncommon in adults, unlike in children. The initial watery nasal secretion may gradually become thicker and darker. However, it is normal and does not require the use of antibiotics.

How long do cold symptoms last?

Cold symptoms last like a week. You are mainly likely to transmit it during the first three days. Staying at home and getting some rest will help you curtail the spread and accelerate your recovery. If the symptoms are not improving after a week, a super bacterial infection may be suspected. Contact your health professional.

Symptoms of flu

On the other hand, flu comes with more severe symptoms, which include fever, headache, muscle pain, fatigue, chesty cough, chest pain, and complications such as sinusitis, bronchitis, ear infection, pneumonia, etc., which can be life-threatening.

For flu, the symptoms improve with time, but it is common to be down with the symptoms for a week or more. In young people or people with underline heart and lungs problems, flu cause common complications like pneumonia. Among the common symptoms of pneumonia co-morbidity, you will observe shortness of breath and recurrent fever. If you experience those symptoms, consult your doctor.

It is worth saying that flu viruses gain entry into your body through the mucosa membrane of the mouth, nose, and eyes. Therefore, each time you touch those areas with dirty hands, you are more likely to be infected. Consequently, it is essential to avoid touching them with dirty hands and keep your hands clean by regular washing.

How to differentiate between cold and flu

As you read this, you will become familiar with how to tell the differences between cold and flu through the symptoms. Though flu always mimics cold symptoms: nasal congestion, fatigue, cough, etc., flu usually causes severe fever. On the other hand, the common cold rarely causes fever above 101˚F. Checking your temperature can give a clue.

The following symptoms are usually common in flu but only sometimes or never present in the common cold:

· Headache

· Fatigue

· Extreme exhaustion

· Chest discomfort

· Complications: Sinusitis, bronchitis, ear infection, pneumonia; can be life-threatening

On the other hand, symptoms such as stuffy nose sneezing are more common in the common cold.

When to Call the Doctor

When you observe the following severe symptoms, consult your health professional.

· Fever that lasts more than three days

· Difficulty in swallowing

· Persistent cough

· Severe headache

· Tightness of the chest

· Shortness of breath

· Dizziness

· Frequent vomiting

· Bluish skin color

· Extreme irritability or distress


The common cold is self-resolving but can use over-the-counter medication to manage the symptoms.

Your pharmacist or doctor may give you acetaminophen to manage the fever, cough syrup for the cough, nasal decongestant to decongest the nose. For the complications of flu, you may have to do a test and use antibiotics together.


Frequent handwashing with soap and water is essential to preventing colds and flu. In addition to this, get vaccinated against the influenza virus to prevent seasonal flu. In the United States of America, seasonal flu peaks between late December and early March. The vaccine will cause you to produce antibodies that will eventually protect you against the virus. Children that are just receiving the vaccine need two doses at the interval of one month for better protection. In addition, you may use antiviral drugs to prevent flu if you are previously exposed to someone with flu symptoms.

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