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Cold Or Flu? Know the Difference

Influenza (flu) and the common cold have very similar symptoms. This makes it hard to tell whether you or a loved one has a cold or the flu. Understanding the differences can help your treatment work more quickly. 

Cold vs. Flu

  • The flu is caused by the influenza virus, but the cold may be caused by a number of different viruses.
  • Both the flu and the cold are highly contagious.
  • Flu symptoms are usually more severe than cold symptoms.
  • The flu usually lasts for 1 to 2 weeks while the cold often lasts 7 to 10 days.
  • A cold may appear at any time of year while the flu is generally seasonal.
  • Flu season occurs between fall and spring becoming most severe during winter months.

Stay Safe. Stay Healthy. Get Vaccinated.

Contact your MaineHealth provider to schedule a flu vaccine appointment for you and your loved ones. Or, visit VaccineFinder.org for more information on where to get a flu vaccine.

Cold

Stuffy nose is common

Sneezing

Sore throat

Mild to moderate coughing

Flu

Fever of 100 degrees and above common

Headaches

Severe aches and pains

Fatigue and weakness lasting for up to 2-3 weeks

Extreme exhaustion from the start of illness

Coughing, can be severe

Flu

Drink plenty of water

Rest

Ibuprofen (Aches/Fever)

Acetaminophen (Aches/Fever)

Prescription antiviral drugs (Must take within first 48 hours)

Cold

Drink plenty of water

Rest

Ibuprofen (Aches/Fever)

Acetaminophen (Aches/Fever)

Decongestants (Runny Nose)

Antihistamines (Runny Nose)

Call your health care provider if you believe you have the flu. Older adults and children may be at a higher risk for more severe symptoms. Your doctor may prescribe antiviral medication if an influenza infections is identified within the first 48 hours.