Key Takeaways:   

  • Cold and Flu both are infectious respiratory illnesses caused by different viruses.
  • Cold is common and causes mild illness and can be resolved without treatment.
  • Flu is a severe illness and can cause serious complications such as sepsis or pneumonia.
  • Over-the-counter medications and home remedies can be used to treat basic symptoms of cold and the flu.

What are the Symptoms?

Fever? Body aches? Cough? Runny nose? Fatigue? Griping with these symptoms can be tricky. All these symptoms seem identical for cold and flu. A common cold and the flu are very widespread during the winter months. In general, symptoms of flu are worse and more intense than cold. A common cold does not result in severe health complications or problems, such as bacterial infections, pneumonia, sepsis, asthma, chronic lung diseases, or hospitalisations.

How do you learn the difference between the flu and a cold? There are some important differences to know. Here’s information that will help you to gain a better understanding of the different symptoms of cold and flu. Proper understanding and knowledge of cold and flu differences will help you in getting the right medications.

Cold Symptoms:

Cold is a viral illness or infection of your throat and nose, and basically the upper respiratory tract. As per American Lung Association, there’re more than 200 viruses that can cause the common cold and it is a highly communicable and contagious illness. Most cold-causing viruses like rhinoviruses, adenoviruses, enteroviruses and coronaviruses thrive in low humidity that’s why cold is common during the winter season.

Cold can easily spread when a sick person coughs or sneezes and sends virus-filled droplets at the surface and flying through the air. If you touch surfaces like a doorknob or countertop that has recently been touched by a sick person and then touch your mouth, nose or eyes then you’ll also catch the cold virus and become most contagious for two to four days.

Cold symptoms include-

  • Fever up to 102°F
  • Stuffy or runny nose
  • Cough
  • Sore throat
  • Sneezing
  • Headache
  • Muscle aches
  • Yellow or green nasal discharge
  • Tiredness
  • Watery eyes
  • Chills

Cold symptoms develop slowly and are mild. It is more likely to start with blockage of the nose and sore throat, followed by sneezing, coughing and congesting. It’s very uncommon for adults or persons with effective immune systems with a cold to develop a fever, but children often do develop a fever while having a common cold.

With cold symptoms, you can have watery nasal secretions for a few days and later, these can become darker and thicker, but it doesn’t mean you have developed any bacterial infection. Sometimes you may be mistaken between cold symptoms and flu-causing allergies such as sinus infection or allergic rhinitis. Usually, colds do not lead to cause further health complications; however, persons with a history of respiratory illnesses can have severe health problems such as asthma attacks from just a common cold.

Thereon if cold symptoms improve within a week, then it is a common cold, if such signs do not appear to be getting improve even after a week, then you have to consult with a doctor to see if you have developed flu-causing sinusitis or allergy.

Flu Symptoms:

Flu, also known as Influenza, unlike a common cold, is also known as an upper respiratory tract illness. It is also a common viral illness spread by sneezes and coughs. It’s not the same as cold because it is caused by different viruses and possesses different symptoms. It starts suddenly and is common during winter months, that’s why it is also called seasonal flu. It can be more severe and last longer than a common cold.

Generally, influenza viruses are responsible for causing illnesses from the flu. There are three main types: influenza A, B and C affecting humans and, A and B are the highly widespread types of flu in the winter season.

Flu symptoms include-

  • Fever over 102°F
  • Nausea
  • Vomiting and diarrhoea
  • Stuffy nose
  • Dry or chesty cough
  • Feeling tired
  • Body aches, especially in back
  • Poor appetite
  • Chills and sweats
  • Headache

Flu symptoms appear suddenly and are more intense than a cold. It can make you feel so unwell and exhausted that you have to rest and stay in bed for improving health. Flu generally starts between 3 to 7 days in person after being infected. People with weaker immune systems and children may remain infected by the flu for a longer time and develop complications such as a chest infection.

Particularly one type of flu- H1N1 is considered serious, also known as swine flu. Flu can lead to cause more serious health complications than the cold like bacterial-based pneumonia, sepsis, or hospitalisations.

Medications and Treatments:

Most people recover from a cold within a few days to 1 week and from the flu, within a few days to 2 weeks. If you face symptoms such as fever above 102°F, chest pressure, fainting, shortness of breath, severe vomiting, sinus pain and swollen neck for more than 1 week, then please consult your doctor.

You can treat a mild cold and the flu yourself by taking over-the-counter medications such as analgesics, antihistamines, paracetamol, ibuprofen, or decongestants. These medications can help to reduce infections like itching, sneezing and congestion. Moreover, you can also treat yourself with remedies such as taking enough sleep or rest, drinking plenty of water to keep hydrated and eating healthy foods.

The Bottom Line:

Both a common cold as well as the flu are seasonal respiratory illnesses that occur through different viruses. The key difference between them is that flu is more serious and can cause health complications whereas, a cold is relatively mild and can be treated within one week. However, it is very essential to look out for early warning symptoms, particularly for people with prediposed respiratory illnesses or children/elderly.

Please note: Advice and opinions in this article are not that of Medicine Drop. You should always consult your pharmacist or GP directly should you have any health related questions or concerns.