The Major Difference Between a Cold and the Flu

Woman wearing blue blowing her nose in a tissue


As the days get colder, so do your chances of catching a cold or flu. In fact, 5 to 20% of the U.S. population will get a cold this year.

But the flu is no small thing. In the US each year, over 200,000 people are hospitalized due to the flu. More than 36,000 people die annually as a result.

Learning to tell the difference between cold and flu is crucial for your health. Read on to learn the different cold vs flu symptoms and what you need to know if you get them.

What is the Difference Between a Cold and the Flu?

Influenza and the common cold are both respiratory illnesses. The difference between cold and flu is the virus that causes each.

Influenza virus types A, B, and C cause the flu. But there are more than 100 viruses that can cause the common cold.

Flu symptoms vs cold symptoms can be very similar. That is why it is sometimes difficult to tell which illness you have.

Below we will explain the symptoms of each illness as well as your treatment options.

Cold Symptoms

When someone has a common cold, their symptoms tend to be a runny or stuffy nose, sneezing and coughing. Sore throats during colds are also common.

People may or may not have body aches. If they do, they will be mild. You will never have severe exhaustion due to a cold.

With a cold, the symptoms appear gradually over a couple of days. You might feel a slight sore throat the first day, followed by a runny nose the next. By the third day, your symptoms may peak in severity.

Colds can linger for up to 2 weeks. Yet they do not typically result in serious health concerns.

Fever and chills are uncommon with a cold. Being fatigued or feeling weak is also rare when someone has a cold.

Flu Symptoms

In general, the flu is worse than the common cold, and symptoms are more intense.

The easiest way to decide if you have the flu or cold is to recall how quickly your symptoms started. Flu symptoms start abruptly. You will suddenly come down with it.

When people have the flu they will likely have a fever or have chills. Body aches and pains are common and severe. A person may feel extreme exhaustion.

People with the flu will usually get headaches.

Like a cold, people with the flu may have a cough, a sore throat, and either a runny or stuffy nose. A cough could become severe.

During the flu, a person’s fever might last 3-4 days.

Flu can be quite serious and develop complications such as pneumonia, bacterial infections, or hospitalization.

Cold Vs Flu Treatments

To treat a common cold, drink plenty of fluids and get rest. You may also want to take over-the-counter cold remedies to stop sneezing and alleviate a cough.

To treat the flu, you will likely need antiviral prescription medication.

When to visit Getwell Urgent Care

No matter if it is a cold or the flu, if your symptoms are not improving, you can visit us at Getwell Urgent Care.

It might be that your flu has turned into a secondary infection that needs diagnoses and treatment.

Some of the signs that you need to visit Getwell Urgent Care is if you have a severe fever that is not going away. Also, if it hurts to swallow, or if you have severe congestion and sinus pain, consider seeking medical attention.

Bottom Line

We hope this has helped clear up the difference between cold and flu. Remember, the best way to prevent the cold is regular handwashing. The flu shot is the best way to prevent getting the flu.

At Getwell Urgent Care, we offer quality, convenient care right when you need it. We are open 7 days a week from 8 am until 7 pm. Walk-ins are always welcome.

Check out this page before you visit us to get some essential information.