The Difference Between a Cold And The Flu

Some people will tell you they have the flu at the first sign of a sneeze or sore throat. However, it’s entirely possible that they have a cold. While the symptoms of a cold and the flu can be very similar, there are a few differences. It’s important to know about these differences so you recognise flu, fast. Flu can lead to potentially life-threatening complications, especially in high-risk people.

Cold vs Flu: What’s the Difference?

Both colds and influenza are viral respiratory illnesses, but different viruses cause them. There are hundreds of different viruses that can cause the common cold, including the rhinovirus, whereas the flu is caused by the influenza A, B, and C viruses.

Both illnesses have similar symptoms, which means you can mistake one for the other. These can include sore throat, cough, aches and pains, and fatigue.

However, there are also some differences.

Symptoms of a Cold

Some symptoms can help you to distinguish between a cold and the flu. If you have the following symptoms, you are more likely to have a cold: runny nose or blocked up nose, sneezing, or a mild or moderate cough. A fever is rare, any cough is usually mild or moderate, and you’re less likely to have a headache, aches and pains, and sickness than if you have the flu.

If you get a cold, you usually find the symptoms come on over a couple of days. You will likely feel unwell for anywhere between seven and ten days, although your symptoms could last for two weeks.

Symptoms of the Flu

The following symptoms are more likely to indicate the flu: a temperature of between 38 degrees Celsius and 40 degrees Celsius, shaking chills, and a headache. With the flu, a temperature can come on quite suddenly, and aches, pains, and any headache could be quite intense. However, not everyone who has the flu will have a temperature.

Your cough is more likely to be dry than produce green or yellow gunk like a cough with a cold might do. You might also feel extremely tired for a few days or longer. Children with the flu often have abdominal pain and diarrhoea.

Flu is usually seasonal. The symptoms, which can be quite severe, come on quite quickly and can last longer than those associated with a cold.

Diagnosing Colds and Flu

The only way to know for sure whether you have a cold or the flu is for your doctor to swab the back of your nose or throat and send the swab off to the laboratory for testing. However, you may not need a diagnosis. Since both a cold and the flu are viruses, both are treated in a similar way. And, you only need to worry if your symptoms don’t improve, they get worse, you notice other worrying symptoms, or you are at a high risk of complications.

How to Treat Colds and Flu

Whether you have a cold or the flu, the treatment is the same as long as you aren’t at risk for complications. Both are viruses, so there is no point in taking antibiotics because antibiotics don’t work on viruses. Instead, you can treat yourself for colds and flu at home.

Look After Yourself

You will probably feel lethargic, so listen to your body and rest and sleep. Also, if you stay at home, you are less likely to spread the virus to other people since colds and flu are spread by droplets from an infected person’s mouth or nose.

You should make sure to drink plenty of fluids, even if you don’t have much of an appetite.

Treat Your Symptoms

If you have a sore throat, eat soft food that is easy to swallow. As long as it’s safe for you to do so, you can take over-the-counter medication for any headache, temperature, or aches and pains, or to clear your nose or ease your cough.

Don’t Spread Germs

Remember to practise good hygiene to prevent the spread of germs. Throw dirty tissues in the bin, cover your mouth and nose with your hand when you cough or sneeze, and wash your hands with soap and water.

How to Protect Yourself from Colds and Flu

  • Get a flu vaccination every year. Although the flu is caused by the influenza A, B, and C viruses, active strains of the virus vary from year to year, so you need a new flu vaccine every year.
  • Vitamin C can lessen your symptoms if you take it consistently.
  • Vitamin D might help protect you from colds and flu.
  • Wash your hand and use hand sanitiser to get rid of germs.
  • Stay away from anyone who is sick.
  • Clean surfaces regularly, including door handles, gym equipment, and mobile phones.

Complications from Colds and Flu

Whether you have a cold or the flu, you should start to feel better in a couple of days. However, in some cases, you might need medical attention. Pneumonia is a complication that is most often associated with the flu. Inflammation of the heart muscle or neurologic complications can also occur. Sinusitis and strep throat are other complications, and a medical professional might want to check you for asthma or bronchitis.

If you ever experience trouble breathing, chest pain, or you notice any other life-threatening symptoms, dial 000.

When to Seek Medical Advice

If you’re confused about colds vs flu, you have a cough or a temperature, or your symptoms aren’t improving, you can get in touch with us at 13CURE for advice. If you think you have the flu and you could be at risk of serious complications, you should see a doctor. It’s important to act fast because if you do need antiviral drugs, you will need to take them as soon as possible for them to be effective.

People at risk of complications include the elderly, young children, pregnant women, people with existing medical conditions such as heart disease or diabetes, people with health conditions that weaken their immune system, people with chronic lung or heart conditions, and Aboriginal or Torres Strait Islander people.

13CURE specialises in emergency treatment. Medicare cardholders and DVA cardholders won’t need to pay a cent since they are bulk billed for our services under the provisions of Medicare.

If you’re not sure whether you have a cold or the flu and you’d like to speak to a doctor, get in touch with 13CURE now.

Name: Dr. Muhammad Mohsin, General Practitioner

University Degree: MBBS, AMC

Bio: Dr. Muhammad Mohsin completed his studies from Univerisity of Health Sciences, Lahore Pakistan in 2008. He came to Australia in 2012 and has worked as a resident and GP in various hospitals and medical centres across Australia. He has a particular interest in men's health, travels medicine, chronic disease management, and general family medicine.