Cold vs. Flu: What Makes the Two Different from Each Other

Nov 30, 2023

Allergy treatment

Cold vs. Flu: What Makes the Two Different from Each Other

The fall season is when people suffer from various types of diseases. You may feel ill, have a sore throat, runny nose, and cough, and wonder if you have a cold or flu. While the symptoms of a cold and the flu are similar, there are several key differences that you should be aware of. Let's learn more about the common cold vs. flu and what these conditions entail.

What Is Cold?

A cold, also called a common cold, is a viral infection primarily caused by Rhinoviruses. Other viruses, such as Coronaviruses and Adenoviruses, can also contribute to colds. Colds are highly contagious and can be transmitted through respiratory droplets or touching surfaces contaminated with the virus.

Common Symptoms of Cold

The symptoms of a common cold can vary from person to person, and they typically develop gradually. Some of the symptoms include:

  • Runny or Stuffy Nose 
  • Sneezing
  • Sore Throat
  • Coughing
  • Watery Eyes
  • Mild Headache
  • Fatigue
  • Mild Body Aches
  • Low-Grade Fever 

What Is Flu?

Flu is a contagious respiratory illness caused by influenza viruses. It leads to mild to severe illness and, in some cases, can be life-threatening. Influenza viruses are categorized into types A, B, C, and D, with types A and B responsible for seasonal flu outbreaks.

Common Symptoms of Flu

The symptoms can vary in severity, and not everyone with the flu will experience all of them. Some of the most common flu symptoms are:

  • Fever
  • Chills
  • Cough
  • Sore Throat
  • Runny or Stuffy Nose 
  • Muscle or Body Aches
  • Headache
  • Fatigue
  • Shortness of Breath
  • Nausea and Vomiting
  • Diarrhea 

What Are the Key Differences Between Cold and Flu?

The differences can be identified on these bases:

1. Onset and Duration

Common Cold: Symptoms typically develop gradually and last for about 7 to 10 days, with some lingering symptoms possible for up to two weeks or more.

Flu (Influenza): Symptoms often have a sudden and abrupt onset. While most people recover within one to two weeks, the flu can lead to more severe and prolonged illness, especially in vulnerable populations.

2. Severity of Symptoms

Common Cold: Generally milder than the flu with a low-grade or no fever.

Flu (Influenza): Symptoms are often more severe and can include high fever, severe body aches, and profound fatigue.

3. Complications

Common Cold: Rarely leads to serious complications.

Flu (Influenza): Flu can lead to severe complications such as pneumonia, bronchitis, sinus infections, and ear infections, especially in vulnerable populations.

What Are the Similarities Between Cold and Flu?

Here are some common features and similarities between the cold and flu:

  • Both are caused by viruses that infect the respiratory system.
  • Both illnesses can cause similar respiratory symptoms.
  • Both diseases can lead to throat irritation and a sore or scratchy throat.
  • Both illnesses can have a relatively sudden onset of symptoms.
  • The common cold and the flu often occur more frequently during certain seasons, typically in the fall and winter.
  • Both the common cold and the flu are contagious and can spread from person to person through respiratory droplets.

What Are the Prevention of Cold and Flu? 

Hand washing is the most important preventative strategy for colds and flu. Hand washing with warm, soapy water for at least 20 seconds helps to remove germs from the skin.

In addition to hand washing to avoid flu or cold symptoms, a flu vaccination can be obtained to protect against seasonal influenza.

Other preventive steps include:

  • Maintain a healthy lifestyle with regular exercise, a balanced diet, and adequate sleep to support overall immune function.
  • Stay well-hydrated by drinking plenty of fluids, which helps keep mucous membranes moist and supports the immune system.
  • Avoid close contact with individuals who are sick, and stay home if you are unwell to prevent spreading illness.
  • Stay informed about the prevalence of flu in your community and take additional precautions during peak flu season. 

Are Cold and Flu Treated the Same?

While several treatments for a cold and the flu are similar, there is one key distinction: Antiviral drugs not used to treat the common cold can help treat the flu. Most flu patients have minimal symptoms and may not require treatment.  

Medication may be beneficial for those with advanced illness or those in high-risk categories. Those who do receive flu shots should begin as soon as possible after symptoms appear, ideally within two days. These shots, when given early, have been found to reduce symptoms, shorten the duration of illness, and avoid hospitalization.

Key Takeaway 

 Cold and flu are two diseases that have significant differences. While these differences can help distinguish between the common cold and the flu, it's important to note that both are viral infections, and the symptoms can overlap. If you are unsure about your symptoms or at higher risk for complications, it's advisable to seek medical advice for an accurate diagnosis and appropriate management. It is because proper care is necessary in both conditions to get well.

Get Quality Care in Bakersfield, CA, at StatMD Urgent Care

Cold and flu can affect your health, especially during the fall. If you want treatment for any of the two diseases, visit us at StatMD Urgent Care. We have the best doctors who provide cold and flu treatment. Contact us today for more information on our treatment plans. 



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