What is the difference between a cold and the flu?

Because these two types of illnesses have similar symptoms, it can be difficult to tell the difference between them based on symptoms alone. The flu and the common cold are both respiratory illnesses but they are caused by different viruses. In general, the flu is worse than the common cold, and symptoms are more common and intense. Colds are usually milder than the flu. People with colds are more likely to have a runny or stuffy nose. Colds generally do not result in serious health problems, such as pneumonia, bacterial infections, or hospitalizations. Flu can have very serious associated complications.

How can you tell the difference between a cold and the flu?

Because colds and flu share many symptoms, it can be difficult to tell the difference between them based on symptoms alone. Special tests can tell if a person has the flu.  If the Flu is caught early enough in its course medication may help lessen the duration and severity of the Virus.

What are the symptoms of the flu versus the symptoms of a cold?

The symptoms of the FLU can include…

  • Fever
  • Cough
  • Sore Throat
  • Runny or Stuffy Nose
  • Muscle or Body Aches
  • Headaches
  • Fatigue or Weakness
  • Nausea and Vomiting

Cold symptoms are usually milder than the symptoms of flu. People with colds are more likely to have …

  • Runny or Stuffy Nose
  • Sore Throat
  • Mild Tenderness

Colds generally do not result in serious health problems.

What is the seasonal flu?

Influenza — or the flu, as it’s better known — is another upper respiratory illness. Unlike the cold, which can hit at any time of year, the flu is generally seasonal. Flu season usually runs from fall to spring, peaking during the winter months.

During flu season, you can catch the flu in the same way you’d pick up a cold: by coming into contact with droplets spread by an infected person. You’re contagious starting 1 day before you get sick and up to 5 to 7 days after you show symptoms.

The seasonal flu is caused by the influenza A, B, and C viruses, with influenza A and B being the most common types. Active strains of influenza virus vary from year to year. That’s why a new flu vaccine is developed each year.

Unlike the common cold, the flu can develop into a more serious condition, such as pneumonia. This is especially true for:

  • Young Children
  • Older Adults
  • Pregnant Women
  • People with Health Conditions that weaken their Immune System, such as Asthma, Heart Disease, or Diabetes

Seek Medical Care if …

If you’re at risk of complications from the flu, call your doctor when you first have symptoms. People at risk of serious complications include:

  • People Older than 50 years
  • Pregnant Women
  • Children younger than 2 years
  • Those with weakened Immune Systems due to HIV, 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 Pain

Call a doctor right away if a child develops the following symptoms:

  • Trouble Breathing
  • Irritability
  • Extreme Fatigue
  • Refusing to eat or drink
  • Trouble waking up or interacting

 

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