Cold Or Flu?

Know how to tell the difference.

During cold and flu season, chances are you or someone in your family is going to catch something.

But it isn’t always easy to tell the difference between a cold and the flu, says the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). Both are respiratory illnesses and can cause similar symptoms. Generally, colds are milder than the flu and do not cause serious health problems. 

So how can you tell whether it’s a cold or the flu?

It’s a Cold When ...

If it’s a cold, you probably won’t have a fever or a headache. You might feel a little achy and tired, but not exhausted. 

Typical symptoms include 
  • stuffy nose, 
  • sneezing, 
  • sore throat and 
  • a cough. 

You may develop sinus congestion or an earache. There’s not much you can do to prevent the common cold—other than avoiding sick people and washing your hands often—and treatments only provide temporary symptom relief.

It’s the Flu When ...

The flu, on the other hand, is usually accompanied by a fever that lasts three or four days.

You may feel severe aches and pains, along with extreme exhaustion or fatigue and weakness that can last up to two or three weeks. 

You may or may not have symptoms like a 
  • stuffy nose, 
  • sneezing and 
  • sore throat. 

But you will commonly experience 
  • chest discomfort and 
  • coughing, which can be severe. 

You can prevent some forms of the flu with an annual flu shot, and if you develop the flu you can shorten the duration and severity of symptoms with antiviral medicines.

The flu can become serious and lead to complications such as bronchitis or pneumonia. Seek medical care right away if you are having trouble breathing, feel pain or pressure in your chest or abdomen, or experience severe or persistent vomiting. 

Most people recover from the flu without complications—and the recommended steps for getting well are pretty much the same whether you have the flu or a cold.

Plenty of rest is key. 

Drink lots of fluids and avoid alcohol and tobacco. 

And don’t scoff at time-tested home remedies like gargling with warm salt water to ease a sore throat or eating chicken soup. Chicken soup offers good nutrition and, according to some evidence, may relieve cold symptoms, including congestion. If nothing else, it’s inexpensive, safe and comforting.

When illness strikes, which is best –urgent care or the GMC Emergency Department? Here’s a minimalist guide to help you decide.

To find a primary care physician or a specialist, visit


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