Cold and Flu: Do You Know the Difference?

Cold and flu season is here. Are you prepared?

Along with the colder weather, holiday feasts and a surge in the sales of hot cocoa, winter also brings sniffles, aching muscles and sore throats. But how will you know if it's a simple cold or the flu?

According to the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, the key differences between colds and the flu can be found in the following symptoms:

Fever. While fevers are rare with colds, they are highly characteristic of the flu. Watch for fevers running between 102 to 104 degrees Fahrenheit. Flu fevers usually last between three and four days.

Headache. Headaches usually occur with the flu, but rarely with the common cold.

Aches and Pains. While you may find some minor aching with a cold, you will more than likely find severe aches with the flu.

Fatigue and Weakness. Colds may tire you out a bit, but the flu will really get you down. In fact, fatigue and weakness associated with the flu can last up to two or three weeks.

Exhaustion. Extreme tiredness and weakness is a major symptom of the flu, but not of the cold. In the flu, it will occur as one of the first symptoms.

Stuffy Nose. This is a symptom more associated with the common cold than the flu.

Sneezing. Sneezing often happens during a cold, and sometimes with the flu.

Sore Throat. Sore throats are very common during a cold and will also sometimes occur with the flu.

Chest Discomfort and Cough. Colds often bring mild to moderate chest discomfort and cough. However, with the flu the discomfort is more pronounced and can become severe.


While most people rush to the doctor to treat the flu, they often ignore common colds thinking they'll just go away. And while a cold itself usually isn't a threat, it can lead to more serious complications such as sinus congestion and earaches. So if your cold seems to be getting worse, contact your physician before it leads to a sinus infection.

If you have the flu, be sure to watch for worsening symptoms. This illness can lead to bronchitis and pneumonia, and can even be life-threatening if left untreated.


While there is no true prevention for the cold, be sure to keep yourself as healthy as possible by eating nutritious foods, getting plenty of sleep and drinking plenty of water.

Contact your physician about possibly getting an annual flu vaccination or other antiviral drugs such as amantadine or rimantadine.


While you've heard it said there is no cure for the common cold, there are plenty of treatments out there for the relief of symptoms. Contact your physician for recommendations of over-the-counter medicines (such as a decongestant or cough syrup) to relieve any sinus congestion or muscle aches.

If you have the flu, your physician may give you amantadine or rimantadine. Be sure to contact your physician if you think you have the flu to prevent your symptoms from turning into something far more serious.

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