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Do You Have the Flu, or Just a Cold?

Buzzle Staff Jul 30, 2020
Although colds and flu share some of the same symptoms such as sneezing, coughing, and sore throat, they are caused by different viruses. Find out the answer to the question do you have the flu, or just a cold?
It's important for you to know the difference between the symptoms of a regular seasonal cold and the flu.
If you wake up sneezing and coughing, with a fever and feeling like you don't want to move out of bed, you could just be suffering from a cold that will last a couple of days and pass, or you could have a respiratory infection that will just get worse without treatment.


Common cold and influenza both are respiratory illnesses; but, a cold doesn't last very long. The flu can make you sick for a few days or even few weeks and can lead to serious health problems like bronchitis or pneumonia for which you may need to be hospitalized. Common cold usually begins with a sore throat and dry cough, and goes away in a day or two.
The sore throat is followed by a runny nose and congestion for a day or two, and then a cough and chest congestion for a couple of days. In adults, it is uncommon to have a fever from just a cold although a slight fever may occur, especially in children. The common cold usually lasts for about a week.


During the first three days of experiencing cold symptoms such as runny nose and cough, you are prone to spread the infection to others. Since colds can be easily spread through contact and even just being close to someone who is sneezing, it's best to stay home and rest until the symptoms alleviate or subside.
In a common cold, the nasal secretions are watery initially, and later become thicker and dark. The infection can be caused by innumerable viruses; however, if your symptoms don't start to improve after a week, you might have a bacterial infection, for which you'll need antibiotics. Consult your doctor to determine if you have an allergy or sinus infection.
The symptoms of flu are usually more severe than those of a cold, and they tend to come on quickly. The symptoms of seasonal flu and swine flu are similar in many ways including sore throat, headache, fever, muscle aches, congestion, and coughing. Swine flu is also associated with diarrhea and vomiting.
Most symptoms of the flu improve slowly over the course of three to five days, but some people may continue to feel tired and run down for five or six days. The flu can often turn into pneumonia, particularly in elderly people, children, or people with heart or lung complications.
If you notice that you are feeling short of breath or having trouble sleeping because of congestion, or if your fever goes away and then comes back after a day or two, then you should consult a doctor. A fever of more than 101 degrees is rare with a common cold, but is fairly common with the flu.

When to Seek Medical Help?

It is important to contact your doctor if you develop any of these severe symptoms:
  • Persistent fever, particularly higher than 100 degrees
  • Persistent coughing, congestion, or headaches
  • Painful swallowing
  • Chest pain, shortness of breath, dizziness, or confusion
  • Symptoms that had been improving but suddenly worsened, especially in children
Both cold and flu viruses enter the body through mucous membranes of eyes, nose, and mouth. So, every time you touch one of those areas of your body you might infect yourself if you have been exposed to a virus. For that reason, it is very important, especially during cold and flu season, to wash hands frequently and avoid close contact with sick people.
To prevent seasonal flu, a flu shot can develop antibodies and provide protection. If you do get flu (seasonal or swine flu), prescription antiviral drugs like tamiflu and relenza may help. Bed rest and chicken soup are good for treatment. In spite of following these measures, if you are still feeling bad or getting worse after a few days, seek medical aid.
Disclaimer: This is for informative purposes only, and should not be used as a replacement for expert medical advice.