Is It Cold or Flu?
Cold or Flu


Your nose is stuffy, your throat is scratchy, and your head is pounding. Is it a cold or the seasonal flu? Symptoms can overlap, so unless your doctor runs a rapid flu test a quick check done with a cotton swab from the back of your nose or throat as soon as you start to get sick; it’s hard to know for sure. Here are some basic guidelines on how to tell the difference between cold and flu symptoms, and what to do if you have either one of these infections.

What are the Symptoms of Cold?

If you have a cold, you’ll probably experience symptoms such as:

  • Runny or stuffy nose.
  • Mild-to-moderate fever.
  • Cough.
  • Sore throat.
  • Sneezing.
  • Headache or body aches.
  • Mild tiredness.

What are the Symptoms of Flu?

Flu symptoms can be similar to those of a cold, although they tend to be more severe. Symptoms can include:

  • Stuffy and runny nose.
  • Moderate-to-high fever (37-39 °c last 3-4 days).
  • Dry, hacking cough.
  • Sore throat.
  • Shaking chills.
  • Severe muscle or body aches.
  • Headache.
  • Profound fatigue (may last up to two weeks).

Some people may experience vomiting and diarrhea, but this is more common in children.

When to Call a Doctor?

Call your doctor when you first have symptoms if you’re at risk for complications from the flu. Those at risk for serious complications include:

  • People over the age of 50.
  • Pregnant women.
  • Children under the age of 2.
  • Those with weakened immune systems due to HIV/AIDS, steroid treatment, or chemotherapy.
  • People with chronic lung or heart conditions.
  • People with metabolic disorders such as diabetes, anemia, or kidney disease.
  • People living in long-term care facilities such as nursing homes.

Contact your doctor right away if your symptoms do not improve, or if they become severe. See a doctor if you have signs of pneumonia, including:

  • Trouble breathing.
  • Severe sore throat.
  • Cough that produces green mucus.
  • High, persistent fever.
  • Chest discomfort.

Monitor children closely, and seek prompt medical treatment if they develop the following symptoms:

  • Labored breathing.
  • Irritability.
  • Lethargy.
  • Refusing to eat or drink.
  • Trouble awaking or interacting.

How to Prevent the Flu?

The best way to prevent the flu is by getting the flu shot. Most doctors recommend getting the flu vaccine in October, or at the very start of flu season. However, you can still get the vaccine in late fall or winter.

To avoid picking up the influenza virus, wash your hands often and thoroughly with warm soap and water, or use an alcohol-based hand sanitizer. Avoid touching your nose, eyes, and mouth, and try to stay away from anyone who has the flu or flu-like symptoms.
It’s important to adopt healthy habits to keep cold and flu germs at bay. You should always make sure you get plenty of sleep, eat lots of fruits and vegetables, exercise, and manage your stress during cold and flu season and beyond.

How to Prevent Cold?

Doctors haven’t yet identified a vaccine; there are ways to prevent this mild but annoying affliction.

Because colds spread so easily, the best prevention is avoidance. Stay away from anyone who is sick, and don’t share utensils or any other personal items (e.g. toothbrush, towel). Sharing goes both ways when you’re sick with a cold, stay home.
Good Hygiene
Practice good hygiene. Wash your hands often with hot water and soap to get rid of any germs you might have picked up during the day, or use an alcohol-based hand sanitizer. Keep your hands away from your nose, eyes, and mouth when they’re not freshly washed. Cover your mouth and nose when coughing or sneezing, and always wash your hands afterward.

Why Won’t Antibiotics Cure Cold or Flu?

Antibiotics are medications that fight infections caused by bacteria, but the cold and flu are cause by viruses. Sometimes, colds can lead to a bacterial infection, I f that happen your health care provider may prescribe antibiotics.

Taking antibiotics when you have a virus may do more harm than good. Taking antibiotics when they are not needed increases your risk of getting an infection later that may resist antibiotic treatment.

Tips for looking after yourself:

  • Gently blowing your nose if mucus or debris is present.
  • Inhaling steam to help loosen the mucus and clear your head.
  • Taking a warm shower or sitting in the bathroom with the shower running.
  • Drinking plenty of liquids to stay hydrated, including warm liquids (such as chicken noodle soup) to help clear mucus.
  • Increasing the amount of sleep and rest you get.
  • Gargle with salt water.
  • Consult your health care provider regarding the use of nonprescription cold medications.


"Is It a Cold or the Flu?" Is It a Cold or the Flu? N.p., 23 Mar. 2015. Web. 20 Nov. 2016.
"Is It a Cold or the Flu?" Is It a Cold or the Flu? N.p., 23 Mar. 2015. Web. 20 Nov. 2016.
"Is It Cold or Flu?" Cold, Flu, & Cough. N.p., 10 May 2015. Web. 31 Jan. 2017.
"Is It Cold or Flu?" Taking Care of Yourself. N.p., n.d. Web. 31 Jan. 2017.