What is the Difference Between a Cold and the Flu?

September 21, 2023

Many people are caught between deciding if they have a cold or flu, because they both have similar symptoms. This blog will help you tell the difference between a cold and flu if you’re experiencing illness symptoms. For same-day cold and flu diagnosis and treatment, visit the walk-in clinic at AFC Urgent Care Thornton. Our board-certified medical providers can evaluate your symptoms and provide a diagnosis and treatment plan within minutes. Simply walk-in or reserve your spot online today!

Causes and Symptoms of a Cold

A cold, also known as the common cold, is a viral infection primarily caused by rhinoviruses. Here are some common causes and symptoms:


1. Viral Infection: Rhinoviruses are the most common culprits, but other viruses like coronaviruses and adenoviruses can also cause colds.

2. Direct Contact: Colds can spread through close contact with an infected person, touching contaminated surfaces, or inhaling virus-laden droplets from sneezing or coughing.


  • Excessive nasal discharge or congestion
  • Frequent sneezing due to nasal irritation
  • Irritation or discomfort in the throat
  • Typically, a dry, hacking cough
  • Feeling tired and low on energy
  • Mild to moderate headaches can occur
  • Watery eyes
  • Some people may experience a slight increase in body temperature
  • Generalized muscle discomfort

Causes and Symptoms of the Flu

Influenza, commonly known as the flu, is a contagious respiratory illness caused by influenza viruses. Here are the causes and symptoms of the flu:


1. Influenza Viruses: The flu is primarily caused by influenza A and B viruses. These viruses can undergo seasonal changes, leading to different flu strains each year.

2. Person-to-Person Transmission: The flu spreads through respiratory droplets when an infected person coughs, sneezes, or talks. It can also spread by touching contaminated surfaces and then touching the face.


  • Sudden onset: The flu often occurs suddenly, with symptoms appearing within a few hours to a day after exposure
  • Fever: High fever, typically above 100°F (38°C), is a common flu symptom
  • Shivering and feeling cold, followed by sweating
  • Severe muscle and body pain are common with the flu
  • Profound tiredness and weakness that can last for several weeks
  • Some individuals may experience chest discomfort and shortness of breath, especially if they have underlying respiratory conditions
  • Nausea, vomiting, and diarrhea can occasionally occur, especially in children

When to Seek Diagnosis & Treatment at Urgent Care

Cold and flu symptoms usually appear 1-3 days after exposure to the virus and can last 7-10 days. They are usually not severe but can be bothersome. Rest, hydration, and over-the-counter remedies can help manage symptoms. If symptoms persist or worsen, come visit us at AFC Urgent Care Thornton for a full diagnosis and treatment plan.

Urgent care centers offer quick access to medical care without the long wait times often experienced in emergency rooms (ERs). They are usually open outside regular office hours, so they are convenient for busy individuals or when your primary care doctor's office is closed. AFC Urgent Care Thornton provides walk-in general illness treatment seven days a week. Just stop by today! If you have any additional questions, please contact us directly at (720) 751-2910.

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