Is It A Common Cold Or The Seasonal Flu?

Is it a common cold or the seasonal flu? Here are some basic guidelines for telling the difference.


-It is an upper respiratory infection caused by a virus. There are more than 100 different viruses that can cause the common cold, most commonly the rhinovirus. Colds can occur throughout the year but more often during the winter months. This is because most cold-causing viruses thrive in low humidity.

-Common symptoms of the cold are: runny or stuffy nose, sore throat, sneezing, cough, headache or body aches, mild tiredness.

– Cold symptoms occur gradually, are less milder than the flu and patients get better in 7 to 10 days.

-Since they are caused by a virus, antibiotics are not effective. Antihistamines, decongestants, acetaminophen, and NSAIDs, can relieve congestion, aches, and fever. 

-Drink plenty of fluids to stay hydrated.


-The seasonal flu is caused by the influenza A and B viruses. The strains of these viri vary from year to year, necessitating the development of new flu vaccine each year.

–Unlike the cold, which can occur at any time of the year, flu is generally seasonal. Flu season usually runs from October to April, peaking during the winter months.

-Symptoms of flu are: a sore throat, dry hacking cough, moderate to high fever, shaking chills, severe muscle or body aches, headache, stuffy and runny nose, severe fatigue that may last up to two weeks.

-Flu symptoms come on quickly and can be severe. They usually last 1 to 2 weeks.

Antihistamines, decongestants, acetaminophen, and NSAIDs, can relieve congestion, aches, and fever.

-Drink plenty of fluids to stay hydrated.

– Your doctor may prescribe antiviral drugs, oseltamivir(Tamiflu), zanamivir (Relenza), or peramivir (Rapivab). These work if administered within 48 hours of your symptoms. They can shorten the duration of illness and reduce the risk of complications such as pneumonia.

Your symptoms are your best guide to help differentiate between common cold or flu. If you think you might have the flu, see your health care provider to get tested within the first 48 hours of your symptoms.

Disclaimer: The information is intended to provide general education for patients and their families. The information provided does not constitute medical or healthcare advice for any individual and is not a substitute for medical and other professional advice and service.

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