Skip to main content

Cold or Flu - How to Tell the Difference

Cold and flu season is here. While both can put a damper on your whole health, the flu is far more serious. So, if you start to feel the sniffles or the heat of a fever boiling up, we have some quick tips to help you know the difference and get the right care from the right place in the right time.

Symptoms of Cold and Flu

When you have a cold, you may have symptoms such as:

  • Fatigue
  • Sneezing
  • Coughing
  • Runny nose
  • Low fever
  • Muscle aches
  • Sore throat
  • Headache

When you have the flu, a respiratory infection caused by influenza viruses, your symptoms may be more severe and include:

  • Weakness and fatigue
  • Sore throat
  • Dry cough
  • Runny nose
  • Chills
  • Muscle aches
  • Severe headache and eye pain
  • Fever

Most people who get a cold don’t need to see a doctor. If you have a cold, you’ll likely recover within seven to 10 days. But if you have the flu, it’s important to see a doctor immediately because quick treatment could lessen the severity of the flu and the length of time that it affects you. It’s also important to see your doctor if you are at a higher risk of complications from the flu.

The flu can also lead to serious complications such as sinus or ear infections, pneumonia, inflammation of different organs, and even death. You may be at high risk for severe illness when you have the flu if you are age 65 or older or have a medical condition such as:

  • Asthma
  • Chronic lung disease
  • Heart disease
  • Diabetes
  • Kidney disorders
  • Liver disorders
  • Weakened immune system due to treatment for illnesses such as cancer

Protect Yourself Against Cold and Flu

First and foremost, wash your hands often with soap and water to kill viruses that can live on your hands and make you sick.

To prevent the flu, get a flu shot every year. The flu viruses change all the time. The flu vaccine that’s available each year is designed to protect against the most prevalent flu viruses at that time.

The flu shot protects more than just you. If you’re in close contact with someone who’s at high risk for complications, you’ll help keep them safe when you reduce your risk of getting the flu, too.

It takes about two weeks for the antibodies in the vaccine to develop in your body and protect you against the flu. That’s why it’s ideal to get your flu shot as early in the flu season as possible.

If you or a family member has contracted the flu, contact your primary care physician or visit one of our Urgent Care facilities listed here.