The onset of autumn means the beginning of cold and flu season. But just because these two illnesses show up at the same time of year doesn’t mean they are the same thing. And with the sudden presence of the COVID-19 virus, it can be even more confusing to know what your respiratory ailment is. If you aren’t sure how to tell if what’s causing your sniffles is the flu or the common cold, keep reading for more information.
The Differences Between the Common Cold and the Flu
Both the flu and the cold are caused by viruses, and both affect the respiratory system. However, they are caused by different viruses and will progress differently. Because both are respiratory illnesses, they generate the same type of symptoms, which we will get to in a moment.
Overall, colds are typically less intense than the flu, and they set in gradually. The flu appears more abruptly, without much warning that you’re getting sick. Additionally, a cold doesn’t usually lead to serious complications, but flu can lead to severe lung infections, pneumonia, or other respiratory problem.
COVID-19 is neither the common cold nor the flu virus, though its symptoms are similar. If you are having cold- or flu-like symptoms, contact your doctor to discuss the possibility of a COVID diagnosis.
Symptoms of the Common Cold
Many symptoms can accompany a cold, but not everyone will have them all. Here are the most frequent symptoms of the common cold:
- Stuffy nose. A cold infection usually occurs in the sinuses, which triggers an overproduction of mucus and phlegm. This results in a stuffy (and sometimes runny) nose.
- Sore throat. Again, because the cold virus takes hold in the respiratory system, the throat is often a site of viral infection. It could swell up to fight the disease, resulting in friction and dryness.
- Due to dripping mucus in the nose and throat, the body will sneeze to rid itself of that.
- Cough/Chest discomfort. This is usually mild since the cold virus rarely settles in the lungs.
- This occurs in some cases of the common cold but doesn’t always appear. It is usually a mild symptom.
The above are the primary symptoms of the common cold, but less typical symptoms include minor aches, headache, and rarely, fever.
Symptoms of the Flu
As with the cold, there are several symptoms that you may or may not experience. The following list contains the most common signs that indicate the flu over a cold.
- It is extremely common for a fever to accompany the flu since the infection is generally more severe than the common cold. The fever is often accompanied by chills.
- Body aches. The presence of muscle aches is a good indicator that you have the flu and not the cold since they hardly ever occur with the cold virus.
- The flu is much more taxing on the body, and it is harder to fight, resulting in fatigue.
- Headaches are incredibly common with the flu but very rare with the cold.
- Chest discomfort. The flu virus often affects the chest more than a cold, so discomfort will be more intense.
Less common symptoms that might sometimes come with the flu are sneezing stuffy nose and sore throat.
If you are unsure if your symptoms mean you have the flu or a cold, compare them with the CDC’s expert guidance. Their recommendations and cautions will help you evaluate what your next steps should be.
Getting a second opinion or treatment is easy at an urgent care center. Call ahead for information or advice, or walk in to see a doctor if your symptoms cause extreme discomfort.