What Are The Differences Between Cold and Flu?

There's a lot of overlap between cold and flu symptoms. We'll help you figure out whether that bug you're fighting is cold or flu and how to tackle it so you can start feeling better sooner. 

While both the common cold and the flu are respiratory illnesses, they are not caused by the same viruses. Although colds are definitely inconvenient, they are far less likely to develop into anything more serious, as the flu can. 

What is a Cold?

Generally, colds are milder than the flu, and are more likely to cause runny or stuffy noses (this isn't to say that the flu can't cause stuffy or runny noses, it's simply less likely to do so).[i] You won't feel good, but you'll probably be able to do some or all of your daily tasks (not that you should: you should try to rest if you can). The flu, on the other hand, will hit you harder, making it difficult to go to work or care for the kids. 

What is the Flu?

Broadly speaking, the flu often feels worse than a cold: you might experience the same symptoms but amplified. The flu comes with more pain and fever than a cold. Common symptoms of flu symptoms include sore throat, chills, fever, runny or stuffy nose, muscle fatigue or aches and headaches. The flu can also develop into more serious conditions and complications, making it more dangerous than the average cold.[ii] 

How Can You Treat the Cold vs. Flu?

An ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure, and it’s important to note that one can be vaccinated against the flu each flu season. There is no such vaccine for the cold. If you’re healthy enough to do so, receiving the flu vaccine each year can go a long way toward preventing the contraction and spread of the virus. 

Whether you have a cold or the flu, symptom relief is largely the same. Get plenty of rest and fluids, take over-the-counter medicines like Maximum Strength Mucinex® Fast-Max® Clear & Cool, Cold, Flu & Sore Throat to relieve your symptoms. Stay home to avoid spreading sickness. Wash your hands frequently and cover your mouth when you cough or sneeze. While the common cold is rarely serious, the flu can be very dangerous for young children, the elderly, pregnant women and people with compromised immune systems.

Watch out for shortness of breath, chest or abdomen pain, confusion, sudden dizziness, severe or persistent vomiting and flu symptoms that improve but then return with fever and worse cough. If you experience any of these symptoms, you should consult a doctor right away.[iii] 

The differences between cold and flu symptoms are often very subtle. The key to taking care of yourself is to monitor your symptoms, like your temperature, to make sure that you aren't getting worse. Explore our Cold and Flu Learning Center to get tips on cold and flu symptoms and prevention.

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[i] https://www.cdc.gov/flu/about/qa/coldflu.htm

[ii] https://www.cdc.gov/flu/about/qa/testing.htm

[iii] https://www.cdc.gov/flu/takingcare.htm