Many people have trouble distinguishing between a cold and the flu. This is because they sometimes share similar symptoms. Even though a cold and the flu are both respiratory illnesses, they are caused by two totally different viruses.
There is over two hundred viruses that could cause a cold. The most predominant virus that causes a cold is the Rhinovirus. In fact, 30% to 50% of all colds are caused by this Rhinovirus, which is a virus of the sinuses.
Unlike a cold only three virus cause the flu. Influenza Type A and Type B are the major causes of most flu epidemics. Influenza Type C virus tends to be more stable and may only cause mild respiratory issues. In fact the flu shot only protects against Influenza Type A and Type B but not Type C.
To be able to understand the differences between a cold and the flu we need to look at each symptom.
With a cold you may feel slightly achy. Most of the time, the ache is barely noticeable. With the flu, however, you will notice that achy feeling and it can be quite severe.
It is rather rare to run a fever with a cold. You can almost guarantee to run a fever with the flu, though. In fact you can run a fever of 100 102 degrees and will continue for 3 4 days.
Chills are quite common when you have the flu. However, chills are not a part of the symptoms list for colds.
Sinus congestion isn't as common with the flu but it isn't unheard of. A stuffy nose is present to everyone who suffers from a cold.
Sneezing can be expected if you suffer from a cold. If you are suffering from the flu that you may sneeze a little but it is doubtful that you will have sneezing fits.
Having a sore throat is quite common with a cold. This is due to the nasal drainage in your throat. If you have the flu, you won't usually suffer from a sore throat. If you do, you probably suffer from a stuffy nose too.
If you have a headache, you are probably suffering from the flu instead of a cold. A headache isn't considered a symptom of having a cold so if you happen to be suffering from a headache with a cold it is usually cause by something else.
Coughing is present with both the flu and a cold. However, the cough is different for each one. The flu has a dry, unproductive cough while a cold has a cough that is hacking and usually productive.
Chest discomfort is also present with both a cold and the flu. A cold generally has mild to moderate discomfort while the flu has severe chest discomfort.
Tiredness With a cold you will experience a little tiredness. With the flu, however, you may suffer from moderate to severe tiredness and exhaustion. This most often lasts for 2-3 weeks.
Time of Onset
Cold symptoms will gradually creep up on you. But the flu symptoms appear much faster. In fact flu symptoms can appear within 3-6 hours.
The cold can cause complications such as an ear ache due to sinus congestion. The flu can cause complications such as bronchitis and pneumonia. The complications from the flu can sometimes be life-threatening.
To prevent suffering from a cold is simple as maintaining good hygiene. In addition to good hygiene, the only prevention against the flu is to get an annual flu shot or FluMist.
The cold and the flu treatments are different from each other as well. With the cold, all you can do is let it run its course and treat individual symptoms. With the flu, however, you can take an antiviral drug such as Oseltamivir or Zanamavir within 24 to 48 hours of the first onset.
Knowing the difference between a cold and the flu will help you understand how to treat it and be on your way to a full recovery much sooner. Recognizing these differences gives you better judgement on what medications to choose and when to see a doctor.