How to Tell the Difference Between a Cold and the Flu

Have you woken up sneezing and coughing? Do you feel feverish? Do your muscles ache?

It’s not uncommon for people to come down with a cold or the flu when seasons change. However, the dramatic change in temperature isn’t the direct reason for these illnesses. Studies show that the two main agents of the common cold, rhinovirus and coronavirus, flourish in cooler weather such as the one we are experiencing now that it’s fall season. Similarly, the influenza virus replicates more rapidly and spreads faster when the air is cold and dry.

However, while two different viruses cause these two respiratory illnesses, their symptoms at the start can be quite similar making it confusing to tell whether you just have a common cold or you’re suffering from the flu.

It’s important to distinguish between the two because a cold is a milder respiratory illness compared to the flu. The flu, if left untreated, can lead to serious health problems such as pneumonia for which you may have to be hospitalized.

Common Cold Symptoms

The common cold typically starts with a sore or scratchy throat that goes away after a day or two. It is followed by nasal symptoms such as a runny nose with watery nasal secretions that later become thicker and darker. Congestion follows which is why many develop a cough. A slight fever is possible, but it is uncommon in adults.

A typical cold will last about a week. When you have a cold, you are most contagious in the first three days. If your symptoms persist beyond a week, you may have a bacterial infection such as middle ear infection which may need to be treated with antibiotics.

Flu Symptoms

Fly symptoms may start like a common cold, but they quickly become more severe. The symptoms include a sore throat, headache, muscle aches, body soreness, congestion, cough, and fever. While the flu symptoms do start to improve within the next two to five days gradually, it’s not uncommon that to feel weak or slightly sore for more than a week. Some people may experience shaking chills.

Similar to a cold, you are also contagious when you have the flu. And when you touch your hand to your mouth, nose, or eyes and touch someone, you could be infecting others with the virus. Complications of the flu can be sinusitis and ear infection. And because bronchitis and pneumonia are a common complication of the flu, it’s important that you visit a doctor if your cough worsens.

If you are suffering from the flu, it’s best you stay in bed, drink plenty of fluids, and rest. However, if you have a cold that may be accompanied with a cough, it can be frustrating because your body feels strong enough to be active yet you may feel congested.

Unfortunately, all you can really do is wait it out until the cold has passed. However, there are things you can do soothe the symptoms such as drink hot tea, eat chicken soup, or even take a steam bath. A better solution is halotherapy or saline therapy which is not only calming and relaxing, but when the salt is inhaled, the anti-inflammatory and antibacterial properties of the salt help kill microorganisms and clear your nasal passages.