Cold Vs. Flu: 4 Differences That’ll Stop Your Confusion

Most people have suffered from a cold, but the flu isn’t quite as common. Both cold and flu require some degree of treatment, but the flu is usually more worrisome than having a cold.

Understanding the difference between cold and flu symptoms can help you determine whether you should see a doctor or if you can take care of yourself.


Cold or Flu – The Symptoms

cold or flu - the differences

They might share some symptoms, but the main difference between the flu and a cold is in the severity. The average cold will produce a sore throat, congestion and sneezing. You might also experience a cough or a headache when you have a cold.

On the other hand, when you have the flu, you experience many of these same symptoms in combination with a high fever, body aches, fatigue, chills and weakness. The flu usually develops quickly while a cold may build for a day or two.

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Once you’ve determined whether you have the flu or a cold, you can set out on an appropriate course of treatment. Because both the flu and a cold are caused by a virus, antibiotics are ineffective for treating either one of them.

There are some antiviral medications that have been developed to treat the flu, but there are no medications designed specifically to treat a cold, though there are many that can treat the various symptoms of a common cold.


Preventive Measures

The single best way to prevent getting the flu is to get your yearly flu shot. This vaccine contains a “dead” flu virus, but allows your body to build an immunity to the various strains so that if you become infected, your body can fight the virus and eliminate or limit the symptoms.

Preventing a cold requires careful hand washing since the virus is often spread through surfaces that have been infected. Wash often with soap and water or use an alcohol based hand sanitizer to kill germs.

It’s also important to keep your hands away from your face until you can wash them since the cold virus is transmitted via your body’s mucous membranes.



cold vs flu

Another major difference between cold and flu is that you can’t die from catching a common cold. Most people will recover from a cold with a few days off and some home care. Seeing a doctor when you have a cold is usually not necessary and your goal should be to rest and stay hydrated.

The flu, on the other hand, can lead to life threatening complications, including pneumonia. In fact, each year many people die from the flu.

The elderly and very young are at the highest risk of flu complications, but anyone who suspects they have the flu should see a doctor for help determining the proper course of treatment.


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Similarities and Dissimilarities Between Cold and Flu

Below is a comparison table between cold and flu showing the key points. Only one point from the below table is similar to both flu and cold that is – sneezing, coughing, runny nose or sore throat symptom. Other four are the differences which will be visible only if you are suffering from the flu!

Parameter for Comparison



Sneezing, coughing, runny nose, sore throat Yes Yes
High fever, fatigue, body aches No Yes
Medication specifically to treat No Yes
Vaccine to prevent No Yes
Need to see a doctor No Yes


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