Do You Have a Cold or Flu?

Do you feel under the weather and wonder if you're sick with the flu or a cold?

It's often hard to tell the difference because the symptoms of both are similar. But there is one clue about flu that can help you know. When you have it, you feel the symptoms sooner than you would with a cold, and they come on with much greater intensity.

What Are the Symptoms of the Flu?

You may feel very weak and tired for up to 2 or 3 weeks. You'll have muscle aches and periods of chills and sweats as fever comes and goes. You may also have a stuffy or runny nose, headache, and sore throat.

Can I Compare Flu and Cold Symptoms?

This chart can help you see the differences and similarities. Then, if you get flu symptoms, call your doctor and ask about an antiviral drug.

Symptoms

Cold

Flu


Fever Rare Characteristic, high
(100-102 degrees F); lasts 3 to 4 days

Headache Rare Prominent

General Aches, Pains Slight Usual; often severe

Fatigue, Weakness Quite mild Can last up to 2 to 3 weeks

Extreme Exhaustion Rare Early and prominent

Stuffy, Runny Nose Common Sometimes

Sneezing Usual Sometimes

Sore Throat Common Sometimes

Chest Discomfort,
Cough
Mild to moderate;
hacking cough
Common; can become severe

Complications

Sinus congestion
or earache
Bronchitis, pneumonia;
can be life-threatening

Prevention

Good hygiene Good hygiene and an annual flu vaccine

Treatment

Only
temporary
relief of symptoms
Antiviral drugs oseltamivir (Tamiflu),
zanamivir (Relenza), or peramivir (Rapivab)
within 24-48 hours of onset

 

WebMD Medical Reference Reviewed by Carol DerSarkissian on May 17, 2017

Sources

SOURCES:
National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases.
CDC: "Antiviral Drugs and the Flu" and "Key facts about seasonal influenza (flu)."
American Lung Association: "Cold and Flu Guidelines: Influenza."
Mayo Clinic: "Influenza (Flu)."
CDC: "Flu Season Is Here: Learn How to Protect Yourself and Your Loved Ones."

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