Do You Have a Cold or the Flu?

January 23, 2015
Picture of a sick man lying in bed with a cold compress on his forehead and a thermometer in his mouth.

Are you sneezing or dealing with a stuffy nose? Have you been coughing or experiencing throat pain? Do you feel tired and weak? All of these symptoms can be caused by the common cold or influenza (the flu), both of which are contagious respiratory illnesses, so how can you tell which one you have?

Cold & Flu Causes

Before discussing the symptoms associated with the common cold and the flu, it may be helpful to consider what causes each illness. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) explains that the common cold and the flu are caused by different viruses:

Flu is caused by influenza viruses only, whereas the common cold can be caused by a number of different viruses, including rhinoviruses, parainfluenza, and seasonal coronaviruses. Seasonal coronaviruses should not be confused with SARS-COV-2, the virus that causes COVID-19.

Cold & Flu Symptoms

So, what are the symptoms of the flu versus the symptoms of a cold? As was noted above, the two illnesses share many of the same symptoms, including sneezing, a stuffy nose, coughing, a sore throat, and fatigue. Only a trained medical provider can accurately distinguish between the two conditions, but until you can receive a personalized diagnosis, ask yourself the following questions:

  • Do you have a fever? The flu commonly causes fevers lasting three to four days, while it’s rare for a cold to do so. The flu is also more likely to produce chills.
  • Do you feel achy? Although colds sometimes produce mild aches, it’s common for the flu to cause severe achiness (including headaches).
  • How quickly did your symptoms begin? Flu symptoms tend to develop more suddenly than cold symptoms.
  • How severe are your symptoms? Flu symptoms are typically more severe than cold symptoms, frequently leaving people bedridden. Individuals with a cold, on the other hand, often feel up to performing their normal activities even while sick.

Cold & Flu Treatment

The common cold generally doesn’t require medical intervention and can instead be treated using at-home remedies such as resting, remaining hydrated, and taking over-the-counter cold medication. However, you should still seek professional care if your symptoms worsen.

If there’s a chance that you might have the flu, you should consult with an experienced medical provider, especially if you’re pregnant, over the age of 65, or have a chronic medical condition such as asthma, diabetes, or heart disease. You should also speak to a provider if you’re concerned that a child under the age of five has the flu. When compared to the common cold, the flu is more likely to cause serious complications.

The Provider to Choose for Cold & Flu Treatment Near You

If you need treatment for non-emergency cold or flu symptoms in Connecticut, Massachusetts, or New York, you can turn to PhysicianOne Urgent Care. We’re pleased to provide first-rate cold and flu treatment to patients throughout the region. And if we suspect that you have the flu, we may order a rapid flu test and/or prescribe an antiviral medication, depending on your specific circumstances.

Click here to find out if PhysicianOne Urgent Care has a location near you. You’re welcome to walk in when it’s most convenient for you (we’re open every day during extended hours), book an appointment ahead of time, or schedule a 24/7 telemedicine visit.

This was the fastest, easiest, and best doctor's visit. The provider was extremely kind and helpful. I explained my symptoms, the provider asked a few followup questions, and then she issued a script. I will absolutely be using this service again and would recommend to anyone.
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