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.




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,
Mild to moderate;
hacking cough
Common; can become severe


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


Good hygiene Good hygiene and an annual flu vaccine


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, MD on May 12, 2021


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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