Content Hub
The Common Cold vs the Flu: How to Spot the Difference

March 18, 2024

The Common Cold vs the Flu: How to Spot the Difference

The winter months are upon us, which means it is both cold and flu season. While both the common cold and the flu are respiratory viruses, they are different illnesses. Here is some information about how to spot the difference between colds and the flu in yourself and others.

Symptoms of a Cold 

The most common symptoms associated with a cold are a stuffy and/ or runny nose. Colds come on gradually.  You feel that you are getting sick over several days and symptoms may multiply with time. Most colds come and go within seven to10 days, although the virus can last for two weeks or more.  

Other signs of a cold include sneezing, coughing, and a sore throat. In some cases, colds can cause a fever, chills, aches, fatigue, and headaches. 

Flu Symptoms 

The flu has many symptoms in common with the cold, but some of its more common symptoms are different. Fever, aches, fatigue, chills, coughing, and headache are all typical signs of the flu. Sneezing, a stuffy nose, and a sore throat are also possible symptoms, but these are less common.  

Unlike a cold, the flu shows up abruptly. You can be feeling fine one day and suddenly have a fever and exhaustion the next. All of the symptoms may appear at once rather than gradually growing. The illness usually lasts for a week or two. 

Cold vs Flu Severity 

Colds are generally less severe than the flu. While annoying, a common cold isn’t going to leave you with any long-term health problems. The flu, on the other hand, can be a severe illness that leads to hospitalization and even death. Flu can be the first step on your way to pneumonia or another bacterial infection. 

The flu is most dangerous for young children, older adults, and those who have chronic respiratory illnesses that compromise their immune systems.  These populations shouldn’t get the flu as it could severely incapacitate them for some time. Catching a cold would not have as dramatic an effect, although colds have been known to lead to bronchitis and pneumonia in rare cases. 

Flu and Cold Prevention 

One of the simplest ways to stop the spread of both the flu and colds is to cover your mouth when you cough or sneeze. Washing your hands before eating or touching your face is also helpful. Stay away from people who are sick, and isolate yourself if you come down with a cold or the flu.

Getting a yearly flu shot is the best way to protect yourself against the flu. Since new versions of the virus are popular each flu season, it is critical to get your vaccination annually. The CDC recommends that everyone over six months of age who is not allergic get the flu vaccine every year.

While flu shots are not 100 percent effective in preventing all forms of flu, they do protect you from getting severely ill. In the rare case that you catch a different type of flu after being vaccinated, the flu shot will still help your immune system kill the virus faster than it would on its own. Reducing risk for yourself also helps keep those around you healthy. 

Still need to get your flu shot? 

Even though flu season has already started, it is not too late to get vaccinated against the virus.  BASS Primary Care offers flu shots at both scheduled and walk-in appointments. Call (925) 962-9120 or visit them online to book your appointment today. You can also walk in any weekday from 7 a.m. to 7 p.m.

At BASS Primary Care Walk-in Clinic, it's Your Health, Your Schedule.