Cold Or Flu? Know the Difference

Both the flu and the cold can have very similar symptoms. It can often be hard to tell whether you or a loved one has the cold or the flu, but understanding the differences can help your treatment work more quickly.

Cold Or Flu: Snapshot

The flu and the common cold have very similar symptoms, but each is caused by a different virus. The flu is caused by the influenza virus, but the cold may be caused by a number of viruses. Both the flu and the cold are highly contagious. In general, flu symptoms are more severe than the common cold and tend to last longer. 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.

Cold Signs Vs. Flu Signs


Stuffy nose is common


Sore throat

Mild to moderate coughing


Fever of 100 degrees and above common


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

Cold Or Flu: Diagnosis

If you believe you have the flu, you may call your healthcare provider for a diagnosis. In particular, elderly patients and children should see a provider for diagnosis. In addition, your doctor may prescribe an antiviral medication if the flu is identified within the first 48 hours.

Cold Treatment Vs. Flu Treatment


Drink plenty of water


Ibuprofen (Aches/Fever)

Acetaminophen (Aches/Fever)

Prescription antiviral drugs (Must take within first 48 hours)


Drink plenty of water


Ibuprofen (Aches/Fever)

Acetaminophen (Aches/Fever)

Decongestants (Runny Nose)

Antihistamines (Runny Nose)

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