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Difference Between the Flu and a Cold

Topic Overview

The flu and the common cold are both types of upper respiratory infections (URIs). Both are caused by viruses. But the flu is not the same as the common cold.

Flu symptoms

Flu symptoms are usually much worse than a cold. The flu usually comes on suddenly and lasts longer.

Symptoms may include:

  • Fever.
  • Cough.
  • Shaking chills.
  • Body aches.
  • Headache.
  • Feeling very tired.

The symptoms usually are the worst for the first 3 or 4 days. In most healthy people, the flu will go away in 5 to 7 days. But it can take 1 to 2 weeks to get completely better.

The flu usually occurs during the late fall and winter.

Cold symptoms

Cold symptoms usually come on over the course of a couple of days.

Symptoms may include:

  • Runny nose and sneezing.
  • Red eyes.
  • Sore throat and cough.
  • Headache.
  • Body aches.

Colds usually last 1 to 2 weeks. As the cold gets worse, your nose may get stuffy with thicker mucus.

You can catch a cold at any time of year, but they are more common in late winter and early spring.

Credits

Current as of: June 26, 2019

Author: Healthwise Staff
Medical Review: Kathleen Romito MD - Family Medicine
Adam Husney MD - Family Medicine
William H. Blahd Jr. MD, FACEP - Emergency Medicine

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