What's the Difference Between the Common Cold and the Flu?

It starts as a tickle…or a runny nose…or a slightly queasy feeling. You start to feel “off” and know that something is coming…but what is it? The cold and flu have many similar symptoms, but it is important to understand the difference between cold and flu symptoms so you can know how to treat them. Many flu medications can only help at the earliest onset of symptoms, so identifying it quickly is important.

Cold vs. Flu

  • Stuffy or runny nose/sneezing – this is very common for colds but is only seen sometimes in regards to the flu
  • Cough – while common for both colds and the flu, cold symptoms include green or yellow phlegm while flu symptoms usually show as a dry cough
  • Sore throat – very common for colds, but only present with the flu if dry coughs are accompanied
  • Body aches – one of the biggest indicators that you have the flu are the severe aches all over the body while a cold usually has mild aches
  • Nausea – this symptom is often seen in flu cases but is not associated with cold symptoms
  • Fever – it is very rare to see fevers associated with colds but is a clear sign of the flu
  • Chills/sweats – not associated with colds, but a common symptom of the flu

The largest difference between flu and cold symptoms is when the symptoms present themselves. Cold symptoms usually sneak up on a person little by little while flu symptoms hit most people very fast and present themselves within hours. The flu also has a season, typically in the colder months between November and March while colds can be common all year round. If flu-like symptoms seem to be showing outside of normal flu season, there is a chance that it could also be allergies.

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