Cold vs. Flu – How Would You Differentiate its Symptoms?

Suppose you wake up coughing, sneezing, or have feverish, achy feeling, how would you know whether you have flu or cold?

So, it’s important to differentiate cold and flu symptoms. Both cold and flu are respiratory illness but cold is milder than flu. When symptoms of cold can make you feel bad for a couple of days, symptoms of flu can make you feel ill for a couple of weeks. Flu can also cause serious health issues like hospitalizations and pneumonia.

Is it a Flu or Cold?

Both of these illnesses can be treated with chicken soup and over-the-counter drugs. But they are not so fast. You should learn what type of illness you have. Flu can cause severe complications like pneumonia. Treatments for flu can work great by 48 hours.

Flue Comes Faster

Some of the common symptoms are fever, sore throat, muscle pain, headaches, congestion, and cough that come all of a sudden. Usually, cold is less intense and it has stuffy or runny nose. Flu can get better within two to five days but it may affect for a week. Cold comes slower but lasts around a week.

Both Flu and Cold Cause Headaches

Headache still comes with cold. It also results from the virus and it can be milder than that caused by flu.

Coughs Come from Both Flu and Cold

                     Cold vs. Flu – How Would You Differentiate its Symptoms?

Both flu and colds are respiratory illnesses that block your airways and cause coughing. Flu causes the complication of lung infection pneumonia. If you have fever above 102 degrees, persistent cough and chills, difficulty in breathing, or chest pain while coughing, you need to call the doctor immediately.

Symptoms of Common Cold

Usually, cold symptoms start with sore throat that goes off after a few days. Runny nose, nasal symptoms and congestion flow with a cough by fifth day. In adults, fever is rare. But kids are more prone to have fever followed by cold. The nose also teems with watery secretions for the first couple of days. Later on, they get darker and thicker. Don’t panic if you have dark mucus as it is not the sign of developing sinus infection or other bacterial infection.  A lot of viruses are likely to cause cold symptoms.


Usually, symptoms of cold could stay for over a week. During the initial 3 days, cold symptoms are usually contagious. Hence, your cold could be passed on to others. So, you should take rest and stay at home. If symptoms of cold don’t improve after a week, you may need to take antibiotics to deal with bacterial infection. You may, sometimes, confuse such symptoms with sinus infection or hay fever. If cold symptoms start immediately and improve after a week, it is cold, not allergic reaction. If cold symptom doesn’t get better within a week, ask your doctor to find out if you have sinusitis or allergy.

Symptoms of Flu

Symptoms are more severe as compared to that of cold and they come quickly. Some of the common flu symptoms are fever, sore throat, muscle aches, headache, muscle soreness, cough, congestion, and even swine flu if it is associated with diarrhea and vomiting.

Most of the symptoms of flue improve gradually within 2 to 5 days but it is rare to feel for a week. Pneumonia is one of the common complications of flu, especially in elderly, young people or anyone with heart or lung problems. If you feel breathing issues, ask your doctor. Another potential problem is fever that comes back again after giving relief for a few days.

Like viruses of cold, flu viruses also come in via mucous membranes of eyes, nose and mouth. By touching one of such areas, you may infect yourself with a virus every time. So, make sure to keep your hands clean any wash them frequently to avoid both cold and flu symptoms.

Cold vs. Flu – How Would You Differentiate its Symptoms?

Cold vs. Flu Symptoms

How would you know if you have cold or flu? This time, you should take your body temperature. The symptoms of flu are mostly like that of cold, such as cough, nasal congestion, malaise and aches. This is why we often confuse cold with flu. Common cold rarely come with fever over 101 degrees. In case of flu, you are most likely to have fever above 102 degree. You may feel miserable with flu virus. Muscle and body aches are also common with flu.

When to Seek Doctor’s help with Cold or Flu Symptoms?

If you have cold or flu symptoms already, it is wise to call the doctor. Also see the doctor if you have one of these severe symptoms –

  • Constant Fever – A fever that lasts for over 3 days can signifies the bacterial infection which must be cured.
  • Constant CoughingIn case a cough lasts for around 2 to 3 weeks and doesn’t go away, it must be bronchitis that can be treated with an antibiotic. Post-nasal sinusitis or drip can also cause constant cough. Asthma is another common cause.
  • Hurts when Swallowing – Even though sore throat can lead to mild discomfort from flu or cold, severe pain can cause strep throat which needs medical treatment.
  • Persistent Headaches and Congestion – When allergies and cold cause blockage or congestion of sinus pathways, they can cause sinusitis or sinus infection. If area around the face or eyes is paining with dense nasal discharge after few weeks, you are likely to develop bacterial infection and you may need antibiotic. However, most sinus infections don’t require antibiotic.

Some cases may require emergency medical care right away. Some of the common signs in adults are –

  • Severe headache
  • Severe chest pain
  • Dizziness
  • Shortness of breath
  • Persistent vomiting

Some other signs of emergency in children are –

  • Bluish skin color
  • Rapid breathing or problem in breathing
  • Not having enough liquids
  • Distress or extreme irritation
  • Failure to talk properly or lethargy
  • Fever with rash

You need to wash your hands frequently to prevent flu and colds. Rub your hands with warm water for 20 seconds to remove germs.

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