The Difference Between Cold and Flu

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The common cold is the most frequent illness in the United States, and it is also the most common reason for doctor's visits. On average, American adults will have two to four colds per year, and children will get between six and 10. The CDC estimates that 5 to 20 percent of Americans come down with the flu annually. It can be a very serious infection that claims the lives of thousands of people each year.

cold symptoms vs. flu symptoms
 Jessica Olah / Verywell

Cold and Flu Symptoms

The symptoms of cold and flu have some things in common, but there are significant differences. The symptoms of the flu are more severe and distinct.

Cold Symptoms

Cold symptoms typically last between seven and 10 days. Symptoms start out mild and then gradually worsen over the next few days. While a cold can leave you feeling pretty miserable, it typically isn't severe enough to interfere with your day-to-day activities.

Common symptoms include:

  • Congestion
  • Cough
  • Runny or stuffy nose
  • Itchy or watery eyes
  • Sore throat
  • Feeling tired
  • Headache
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Flu Symptoms

Influenza symptoms often come on hard and all at once. Many people describe it as feeling like they "were hit by a truck."

Flu symptoms include:

  • Fever
  • Headache
  • Body aches
  • Extreme fatigue
  • Cough
  • Sore throat
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Both the common cold and influenza are caused by viruses. They are spread through the air in droplets produced coughing and sneezing, contact with saliva, and touching contaminated surfaces.

Cold Causes

Over 200 different viruses can cause the common cold. Rhinoviruses are the type that cause most colds, but they can also be caused by coronaviruses, respiratory synctial virus (RSV), parainfluenza, and others. While you often develop immunity to each cold virus after you catch it, there is always another cold virus out there waiting to cause similar symptoms.

Flu Causes

The flu is caused by the influenza virus. There are many strains of influenza, and it frequently mutates, creating new subtypes and variants. Although there are three main types of influenza—A, B, and C—only influenza A and B cause seasonal influenza symptoms.

People of all ages can get the flu. However, those in high-risk groups are more likely to develop serious complications. These include pregnant women, older adults, children under age 5 and people with chronic medical conditions such as heart disease, asthma, or diabetes.


Cold Diagnosis

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Flu Diagnosis

If you think you might have the flu, seeking medical attention early may make a difference. There are 年轻人低价租住老年人房屋 “跨代共居”模式受多国欢迎 to determine if your symptoms are caused by influenza. It's especially important to recognize the symptoms that are flu-like and notify your doctor within the first 24 hours. People at high risk for complications from the flu and should be started on treatment as soon as possible to prevent serious symptoms, complications, or hospitalization. Talk to your healthcare provider before you get sick, so you will have a plan if you develop flu symptoms.

If you have severe symptoms with a cold or flu, such as trouble breathing, wheezing, uncontrollable coughing, or a high fever, you should see your doctor. Also see your doctor if you start feeling better, but then get sick again, with worse symptoms. This is a sign of a secondary infection, such as pneumonia.


Time is the only true "cure" for cold and flu. There are medication-free ways to help yourself feel better, such as unning a humidifier, rinsing your sinuses with saline, drinking extra clear fluids, and getting extra rest.

Over-the-counter cold medicine may help relieve symptoms. Taking a pain reliever/fever reducer such as Tylenol (acetaminophen) or Motrin (ibuprofen) can treat fever and many of the aches and pains that come with the flu. Decongestants and expectorants can help with coughing and congestion for colds and flu.

While cold medicines can be used for symptomatic relief by adults and older children, they are not recommended for children under age 6. Talk to your pediatrician for guidance.

For the flu, antiviral medications can shorten the duration and protect you if you are exposed to someone with the flu. These medicines are available by prescription only, so you'll have to see your healthcare provider to get them. They are also only truly effective if started within the first 48 hours of the start of your symptoms. If you wait until you are on day three or four of your illness, they are unlikely to make a difference.

Because colds and flu are viral, 多元化商业地产模式下 家居业路在何方?. It is important to never take unnecessary antibiotics as this has led to resistant strains of bacteria that are becoming significant health problems worldwide.

The flu shot is typically available in the United States starting in August or September. It provides protection against the flu strains researchers believe are most likely to cause illness during the upcoming flu season. Still, it isn't 100 percent effective because the influenza virus mutates so frequently. While a primary goal of the flu vaccine is to keep you from getting the flu, it can also lessen the course and severity of the flu if you do catch it.

A Word From Verywell

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Verywell Health uses only high-quality sources, including peer-reviewed studies, to support the facts within our articles. Read our editorial process to learn more about how we fact-check and keep our content accurate, reliable, and trustworthy.
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