Cold vs Flu: Know The Difference This Season

The flu and the common cold are both common respiratory infections, especially during the winter. In fact, the beginning of fall to the beginning of spring is even deemed flu season because of the widespread circulation of the influenza virus. While the cold and the flu are caused by different viruses, both can sometimes have some of the same symptoms. This can make it hard to tell whether a person is suffering from the cold or the flu.

Center for Family Medicine Is it a Cold or the Flu What’s the difference

Gradual symptoms or swift and sudden?

The common cold typically comes on gradually and lasts for a few days to a week. The flu virus tends to come on more suddenly and symptoms last for 1-2 weeks. If someone is experiencing swift onset symptoms of the flu, including fever, sore throat, chills, body aches, and extreme fatigue, they should consider seeing a doctor within 48 hours. While some flu symptoms will go away on their own, in other cases an antiviral medication prescription can fight against the flu and speed up healing.

Both the common cold and the flu can cause congestion, runny nose, sore throat, and coughing. Both are spread through coming into contact with airborne bacteria. The biggest differentiator between the two is that the flu is often also accompanied by fever and severe exhaustion. Nausea and vomiting can also be flu symptoms, especially in young children.

Which one is worse?

The flu is typically more serious than a cold because the flu can turn into more complicated infections if left untreated. Pneumonia is a common complication of the flu, especially in the elderly, the very young, or in people with lung or heart problems. Signs that the flu is progressing into pneumonia can include shortness of breath or a fever that keeps coming back. In these cases, it’s important to see a doctor for treatment right away.

The best protection this winter

Staying up-to-date on vaccinations, including the flu shot, will help protect against infections. Additionally, regularly washing hands and disinfecting all belongings is the best prevention when it comes to the cold and flu viruses. People should avoid coughing or sneezing into their hands and should instead cough or sneeze into a tissue or cloth to prevent the spread of airborne germs.

As with most health conditions, maintaining a healthy lifestyle can help prevent the likelihood of catching a cold or coming down with the flu. This includes eating a nutritious diet, exercising regularly, and getting 7-9 hours of sleep per night.