Is It A Cold Or The Flu?

How to tell the difference between a cold and the flu (Photo: Shutterstock/wavebreakmedia)

It’s officially cold and flu season and even if you’ve been eating a healthy diet, staying active, washing your hands frequently and gotten the flu shot, you can still catch a cold or the flu (after all, not every strain of the flu is included in the vaccine). One day you might find you’re sniffling and sneezing and wondering whether it’s a cold or the flu.

When it comes down to it, both will make you feel crummy and call for you to stay home to get some rest but also so that you don’t spread it to other people. Of course, the flu is a serious concern for children and seniors. How to tell the two apart:

The common cold

A cold is a viral infection that affects your upper respiratory tract. And part of the reason there is no cure for the cold yet is because it is caused by more than 200 different viruses. You catch a cold when you come into contact with cold germs, which can be transmitted in the air or on surfaces when someone who has a cold sneezes and the virus gets transmitted in the air or by touching a surface the germs have landed on and afterwards touching your eyes or mouth, for example. You’ll experience symptoms coming on gradually, and they’ll last about five days. Most are mild, such as runny nose, sneezing, congestion, sore throat, and maybe a cough.

The flu

Some flu symptoms are similar to the cold, however the flu is more severe. Another key difference is the flu symptoms come on suddenly (you’ll feel like you were hit by a ton of bricks) and you’ll feel under the weather for a longer period of time (typically a week or longer). You’ll typically start feeling sick with a fever and  a cough. Plus, while a cold usually is felt in the head, nose, throat and neck, with the flu you often experience body aches, chills, headache, loss of appetite, and sometimes vomiting and diarrhea.


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