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Flu vs. Cold Symptoms: Understanding the Difference

You’re struggling to get through the day – and night – because of coughing, sore throat, shortness of breath, and body aches. You know you don’t feel well, but you’re not sure if it’s just a common cold or something more serious, like influenza, also known as the flu.

Because they’re similar, it can be difficult to tell the difference between flu and cold symptoms. Here’s what you need to know about both and how you can recognize the more serious illness.

How to Distinguish a Cold from the Flu

Comparing cold symptoms vs. flu symptoms is usually the best way to tell which ailment you may have. Although both are respiratory illnesses, they are caused by different viruses.

A cold can cause a sore throat, cough, and runny or stuffy nose. Generally speaking, the flu is worse. In addition to those symptoms, the flu can cause fever and/or chills, muscle or body aches, headaches, and fatigue. Influenza can also result in more serious health problems, such as pneumonia or bacterial infection.

When comparing flu versus cold symptoms, note these three key differences:

  • Onset: The flu comes on quickly, while a cold develops gradually, usually with a sore throat and runny nose.

  • Fever: A common cold rarely includes a fever of more than 101 degrees. Flu symptoms, however, usually include an initial fever. Cough, body and muscle aches are also more common with the flu.

  • Timing: Flu season generally lasts from fall to spring of the next year.

When To Get Help To Diagnose, Treat or Prevent the Flu

Despite these differences, it’s sometimes impossible to tell if it’s the flu or a cold without a medical professional performing a diagnostic test within the first few days of illness. This is important for treating the flu: Your health care provider can prescribe anti-viral medications to lessen the symptoms, but they are most effective when administered within two days of onset.

Regardless of age or preexisting health conditions, anyone can get the flu. However, some people are more at risk of not only getting the flu, but also contracting serious conditions because of it:

●      People 65 and older

●      People with chronic medical conditions

●      Pregnant women

●      Young children

That’s why it’s so important to get a flu shot before seasonal influenza begins. It’s the best way to avoid the flu yourself and to help protect others from getting it. At GoHealth, we make it easy and affordable to get your annual flu vaccine.

What Is the Common Cold?

Like the flu, the common cold is a respiratory virus that usually lasts for about a week. Although uncomfortable, cold symptoms are usually not as severe as symptoms of the flu.

That’s not to say the common cold isn’t contagious, however. It’s easily spread to others, so while you are coughing and blowing your nose, it’s best to stay home. A little rest will do you good, and it will help aid in your recovery.

How To Protect Yourself From the Flu and Common Cold

To help avoid these viral infections, follow these easy practices:

  • Get an annual flu shot
  • Wash your hands with soap and water, especially before mealtime
  • Avoid touching your eyes, nose, and mouth
  • Stay away from others who are sick
  • Cough or sneeze into a tissue
  • Stay home if you are sick

Cold vs. Flu Symptoms Chart

If you’re experiencing any of these symptoms, the experts at GoHealth Urgent Care can perform a rapid flu test to determine if you’ve got a case of the sniffles or something more serious. We’ll get you on the road to recovery in no time.

flu symptoms vs cold

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