Cold or Flu: Learn How to Tell the Difference

Is it a cold or the flu?

Sneezing, coughing, chills… it’s that time of the year. But, do you have the cold, or the flu? They may seem like they are the same and knowing the difference isn’t a big deal, but it can be a matter of life and death.

The common cold and the flu are both respiratory illnesses, but they are caused by different viruses. While the cold can cause you to feel sick for a few days, the flu can leave you ill for weeks and can lead to more serious illnesses, hospitalization, and even death.

Cold Symptoms

A cold does not usually result in serious health problems but the symptoms often last about a week.

• runny or stuffy nose
• sore throat
• congestion
• cough
• slight fever

Flu Symptoms

The flu is worse than a cold and the symptoms are more severe and usually come on quickly but generally improve over two to five days even though you may feel worse for wear for a week or so.

• fever
• chills
• sore throat
• cough
• headache
• fatigue
• muscle or body aches

Cold or Flu: How to Tell Which it is

First thing you should do is take your temperature. Common colds rarely lead to a fever of 101 degrees, but with the flu, you’re likely to have one. Also, pay attention to your body. Feeling achy? Then it’s probably the flu.

If you’re suffering from cold or flu symptoms, call the doctor if you have:

• a fever that won’t go away
• a cough that won’t let up
• a congested chest
• pain when you swallow

Any of these ongoing symptoms could mean you have an infection that require antibiotics like strep throat or bronchitis.

Cold and Flu Prevention

Frequent handwashing is important in the battle against colds and flus, however, the best way to prevent the flu, is with a flu shot.

For more information about the difference between a common cold and the flu, visit the Centers for Disease Control and Preventions’ cold versus flu resource page

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