Cold vs Flu

The common cold and the flu (or influenza) can be alike in many ways. They are both caused by viruses and are spread from person to person through the air and from contact with shared objects.

Feeling ill? Check out some tips to help you feel better.

Signs and Symptoms of Flu vs Common Cold

Signs and Symptoms Influenza (Flu) Cold
Onset Sudden Gradual
Fever > 101°F, lasting 3-4 days None or <  101°F
Cough Dry, sometimes severe Hacking
Headache Prominent Rare
Body Aches Typical, severe Uncommon or mild
Tiredness and Weakness Can last 2-3 weeks Mild, brief < 1 week
Stuffy nose Sometimes Common
Sore throat Sometimes Common

Flu (Influenza)

The flu (influenza) is caused by a respiratory virus that usually occurs in the Northern Hemisphere between October and April. There are two types, A or B and the severity varies from year to year.  Unlike the common cold, the flu begins suddenly with high fever, body aches and fatigue.

The Common Cold

The common cold is a viral syndrome that causes over 90% of the nasal congestion, low grade fever, chills, sore throat and general aches and pains that people experience. Because it is caused by a virus, it is not affected by the use of antibiotics. A cold usually resolves in 7-10 days.

Treatment for the common cold includes resting, drinking lots of fluids, and the use over-the-counter medications, if desired, to treat symptoms.

Over-the-Counter Medications

Choose the right medication for your symptoms by checking the labels when using over-the-counter remedies because they are usually a combination of several different medications. They can have side effects like drowsiness or insomnia.

Some of the medications can also interact with prescription medications you may be taking so it is important to read the labels for any warnings.

If you want to: Choose Medication with:
Unclog a stuffy nose Nasal decongestant
Quiet a cough Cough suppressant
Loosen mucus so that you can cough it up Expectorant
Stop a runny nose and sneezing Antihistamine
Ease fever, headaches, body aches Pain reliever (analgesic)

Prevention and Precautions


Guard against getting colds and flu by maintaining a healthy lifestyle that includes good nutrition, adequate rest, decreased stress, limited or no smoking. Limit the spread of infection by avoiding crowded places and wash your hands often. Cover your mouth when you cough or sneeze.

Get the Flu Shot. The Flu shot helps your body make antibodies to the Flu. Since new strains of the influenza virus develop each year, the vaccine must be updated and given yearly.  Flu Shots are offered starting around the end of October through the season til March or April.