How do you tell the difference?

You wake up one morning to find you’ve got a stuffy nose, sore throat and feel awful. You’ve got to get to work, but feel miserable, so what are you to do? How do you know if you have a cold or you might have the flu?

cold vs flu largeDefinition

A cold typically starts with a sore throat (this most often goes away within a couple of days), followed by nasal symptoms (such as runny nose or congestion), and then a cough (usually by the fourth or fifth day). The major symptom is nasal secretions which are watery for the first few days and then becomes thicker and darker. This does not mean you’ve developed a sinus infection, but is the common progression of a cold. A fever is not common for adults, but is for children. You are contagious the first three days that you have symptoms and should feel better in about week.

Flu symptoms are more severe than a cold and come on quickly. The most frequent symptoms that you might experience are sore throat, headache, nasal congestion, cough, fever, and muscle soreness/aching. The last two are more likely to occur with the flu than a cold, which can be a way to tell the difference between the two. You will usually start feeling better within two to five days, but can feel run down for a week or more. People have described feeling extremely exhausted and have described it as never feeling this tired before in their entire life when they have the flu. For a quick look at which symptoms are more likely with the cold versus flu, please check out Fast Facts.

TreatmentFast Facts Cold vs Flu

A virus is the cause of both the cold and flu, which means antibiotics will not work in making you feel better. In order to feel better, the best thing you can do is manage the symptoms themselves and drink plenty of water. Decongestants will help to relieve nasal congestion/sinus pressure. Pain reliever/fever reducers will help manage both of these. Antiviral drugs for flu may be taken in some cases, but these medications require a prescription from a doctor and need to be taken within the first 36-48 hours of when the symptoms first appear in order to be most effective at decreasing the length of time you have them (Note: sometimes even when taken within the appropriate time frame, they are not always as effective as they are prescribed to be).


What can you do to prevent yourself from catching a cold or the flu? The most important thing is also the simplest…wash your hands! This means rubbing your hands with warm soapy water for at least 20 seconds to help get rid of germs. If you already have a cold or the flu, stay home and rest because this will help prevent the spread to others. For the flu, you can also get a flu shot every year. Even with doing all that you can, you could still end up getting sick, but you will get better, it just takes time.