Common Cold and Influenza Symptoms and Difference
Synopsis: The flu (influenza) and the common cold may share a number of symptoms. However, there are important differences regarding the effects of their symptoms.1
Author: Disabled World Contact: www.disabled-world.com
Published: 2019-12-13 Updated: 2019-12-23
The flu is caused by the influenza virus. A cold can be caused by different types of viruses, the most common ones belong to the rhinovirus family.
A vaccine against the flu is available, but there is no vaccine currently available to protect you against a cold. Fall (Autumn) is the best time of year to receive the yearly influenza vaccine shot.
There are literally hundreds of strains of cold viruses that can cause a cold any time of year.
There are four types of influenza viruses: A, B, C and D. Influenza A and B viruses are the most common cause of seasonal influenza outbreaks in humans. Emergence of a new and different influenza A virus that infects people can cause an influenza pandemic. Typically, type C influenza only causes minor respiratory diseases (not an epidemic), and influenza D mainly affects animals and does not infect humans.
Currently there is no treatment against the flu or a cold, since they are viral infections (and not bacterial), antibiotics have no effect on them. Your immune system must fight the infection in order to eliminate it. Both colds and the flu require plenty of rest, fluids and time.
How to Tell a Cold and the Flu Apart
- The flu is caused by the influenza virus.
- A cold can be caused by different types of viruses, the most common ones belong to the rhinovirus family. A cold can not change into the flu.
See our chart further down the page that explains symptom differences between the "flu" and the "common cold".
When is "Flu Season"?
- Tropics - In tropical regions - close to the Equator - the influenza virus is active throughout the entire year.
- Northern Hemisphere - Flu activity usually peaks annually in January and February - but can extend all the way into May.
- Southern Hemisphere - In temperate climate zones of the Southern Hemisphere, influenza activity generally occurs during the month of April though to September.
A vaccine against the flu is available, but there is no vaccine currently available to protect you against a cold. The flu vaccine is updated to include current viruses each year. Fall (Autumn) is the best time of year to receive the yearly influenza vaccine shot.
When should I receive a flu shot?
Woman in blue sweater blowing her nose into a tissue. A small orange pack of tissues is also in her hands.
Cold and Flu Tips
- Wash your hands often to avoid spreading infection to others.
- If you have a sore throat, try eating softer foods that are easier to swallow.
- Use a humidifier to keep the air moist and ease throat and nose discomfort.
- Drink warm liquids like tea and chicken soup to help relieve a sore, scratchy throat.
- Most doctors recommend you stay home and not go to work, or crowded public places, during the severe symptoms stage of a cold or flu, e.g. diarrhea, fever, cough with mucus, vomiting, or general fatigue.
- Can You Get a Cold from Being in the Cold?
No, only a cold virus can cause the common cold. It is also a common, but mistaken, belief that going outside with damp hair, or not dressed warmly on a cold day will worsen the symptoms of a cold virus. Being in cold weather will certainly make you feel colder, and your nose and eyes may run more, but will not make a cold worse.
How Do I Know If I Have the Flu or a Cold?
|Different Symptoms Between Colds and Flu|
|Sore Throat||Very common||Common.|
|Headaches||Rare||Common, Sometimes strong.|
|Overall Pain||Occasional, Mild||Common, Sometimes intense.|
|Coughing||Mild, Moderate, Rarely severe||Strong, Possible respiratory problems|
|Fever||Rare, mild, transient||Possible sudden high fever (102ºF/38.9ºC - 104ºF/40ºC); lasts 3 - 4 days. NOTE: Not everyone with flu will experience fever.|
|Occasional, mild||Common, Often strong, Can be severe at onset and last several weeks.|
|Colds||In general, a cold is shorter in duration and less intense than the flu. Symptoms related to the common cold are usually milder than symptoms of the flu. Those enduring a cold are more likely to have a runny or stuffy nose. Colds generally do not result in serious health problems, such as pneumonia, bacterial infections, or hospitalizations.|
|Influenza||Symptoms of flu can include fever or feeling feverish and/or chills, persistent cough, sore throat, runny or stuffy nose, muscle and/or body aches, headaches and/or fatigue. Vomiting and/or diarrhea is more common in children than adults and rarely occur with the common cold. Most people who get flu will recover in several days - to less than two weeks, but some people will develop complications (Pneumonia, bronchitis, sinus infections and ear infections are examples of flu-related complications) as a result of flu, some of which can be life-threatening and result in death.|
If cold or flu symptoms become serious, do not hesitate to call or see a doctor.
- 1: Seasonal Flu: H3N2 Influenza : Public Health Agency of Canada (2014/12/29)
- 2: Common Cold and Influenza Symptoms and Difference : Disabled World (2019/12/13)
- 3: FDA Statement Regarding Efforts to Improve Effectiveness of Influenza Vaccines : U.S. Food and Drug Administration (2018/02/26)
- 4: Flu Shot Reactions: Types and Precautions : Patsy Hamilton (2009/04/26)
- 5: When Should I Receive a Flu Shot (Influenza Vaccine) : Disabled World (2009/09/15)
- 6: Say Boo to the Flu: Americans Casting Wrong Spells to Scare Away Seasonal Flu : The Clorox Company (2010/09/30)
- 7: Upcoming Flu Season and Vaccination Preparation - 2018-2019 : U.S. Food and Drug Administration (2018/09/28)
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Journal: Disabled World. Language: English (U.S.). Author: Disabled World. Electronic Publication Date: 2019-12-13. Last Revised Date: 2019-12-23. Reference Title: Common Cold and Influenza Symptoms and Difference, Source: <a href=https://www.disabled-world.com/health/influenza/colds-flu.php>Common Cold and Influenza Symptoms and Difference</a>. Abstract: The flu (influenza) and the common cold may share a number of symptoms. However, there are important differences regarding the effects of their symptoms. Retrieved 2021-02-26, from https://www.disabled-world.com/health/influenza/colds-flu.php - Reference Category Number: DW#128-13745.