Cold and flu: What is the difference?

As the temperature drops, the threat of influenza and common cold typically increases. It is important that you are familiar with the difference between the two conditions and how to avoid acquiring both. Remember that prevention is vital and always be updated with yearly influenza vaccination. It is difficult to avoid the common cold or the flu but differentiating the symptoms apart is more difficult.


The seasonal influenza or the flu typically affects millions of individuals depending on the year. Many are hospitalized every year for flu-related complications while some die from this condition.

Cold or flu

The symptoms of flu are more severe than the usual sneezing, congestion and stuffiness than a cold.

The elderly, young children, pregnant women and those who have chronic health conditions face a higher risk. The flu can spread from one individual to another via direct contact or through infected droplets sneezed or coughed in the air. The ideal protection against this common ailment is yearly vaccination of the flu vaccine. With this in mind, it is best to consult a doctor in order to receive yearly vaccines to reduce the risk.

Signs and symptoms

  • High fever (100-103 degrees F in adults and higher in children)
  • Headache
  • Chills
  • Fatigue and weakness
  • Dizziness
  • Muscle aches
  • Dry cough
  • Appetite loss and diarrhea
  • Sore throat
  • Runny or stuffed nose
  • Ear infection

A doctor should be consulted or bring the individual to the emergency department if the symptoms are severe or worsen.

Remember that both the flu and common cold are instigated by viruses and do not respond to antibiotics. The symptoms of flu are more severe than the usual sneezing, congestion and stuffiness than a cold. In addition, the symptoms of flu tend to develop rapidly usually 1-4 days after exposure and an individual is considered contagious from 24 hours before becoming sick until the symptoms resolve.

Common cold

The common cold can be managed with over-the-counter decongestants or cough medications or simply increasing the fluid intake and adequate rest. If medications are used, follow the instructions carefully. The prevention of common cold involves regular hand washing as well as avoiding exposure to those who have cold or other upper respiratory infections.

Signs and symptoms

The common cold is considered as a prevalent condition during the cold season. As mentioned earlier, the common cold can runs its course without requiring any treatment. In some cases, it would require medications to hasten the recovery.

  • An initial tickling sensation in the throat
  • Runny or stuffed nose along with sneezing
  • Sore throat
  • Cough
  • Mild fever
  • Mild headache
  • Mild fatigue
  • Mild muscle aches
  • Appetite loss
  • Change in nasal discharge from watery to thick yellowish or greenish in color

If an individual shows any of the symptoms of both conditions, it is best to consult a doctor for proper assessment of the condition. This will help determine the suitable treatment for faster recovery.


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