Difference Between the Flu and a Cold

Skip to the navigation

Topic Overview

The flu and the common cold are both types of upper respiratory infections (URIs) . Both are caused by viruses. But the flu is not the same as the common cold.

Flu symptoms

Flu symptoms are usually much worse than a cold. The flu usually comes on suddenly and lasts longer.

Symptoms may include:

  • Fever.
  • Cough.
  • Shaking chills.
  • Body aches.
  • Headache.
  • Feeling very tired.

The symptoms usually are the worst for the first 3 or 4 days. In most healthy people, the flu will go away in 5 to 7 days. But it can take 1 to 2 weeks to get completely better.

The flu usually occurs during the late fall and winter.

Cold symptoms

Cold symptoms usually come on over the course of a couple of days.

Symptoms may include:

  • Runny nose and sneezing.
  • Red eyes.
  • Sore throat and cough.
  • Headache.
  • Body aches.

Colds usually last 1 to 2 weeks. As the cold gets worse, your nose may get stuffy with thicker mucus .

You can catch a cold at any time of year, but they are more common in late winter and early spring.

Related Information

Credits

ByHealthwise Staff

Primary Medical Reviewer Kathleen Romito, MD - Family Medicine

Adam Husney, MD - Family Medicine

Specialist Medical Reviewer William H. Blahd, Jr., MD, FACEP - Emergency Medicine

Current as ofNovember 20, 2017