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Cold vs. Flu: What’s the Difference?

The flu and the common cold are both respiratory illnesses, but different viruses causes them.

The flu and the common cold are both respiratory illnesses, but different viruses causes them. These two types of illnesses have similar symptoms, so it can be difficult to tell the difference between them. Therefore, we will discuss the cold vs. flu and the differences between each.

Cold vs. Flu

What is the Common Cold?

The common cold is a viral infection that affects your upper respiratory tract (nose and throat). Typically, it is not serious, and most people recover within a week or two.

Conversely, the flu is a viral infection caused by the influenza virus that affects your entire respiratory system. This includes your nose, throat and lungs. These viruses constantly change, so even if you have had the flu in the past, your body might be susceptible to a new strain each year.

So, is it a Cold or the Flu?

Symptoms of the Cold vs. Symptoms of the Flu

YesSneezing or runny noseSometimes
Yes, with green or yellow gunkCoughYes, a dry cough
YesSore throatSometimes
Mild head & body achesBody achesSevere aches all over
Rare for adultsFeverYes
NoChills & sweatsYes
Slowly, over a few daysWhen do the symptoms come on?Fast, within hours

How Long Will You Be Contagious?

With the cold, you are most contagious for the first 2-3 days after symptoms first appear. However, symptoms of the cold may continue to linger.

Conversely, you are most contagious for the first 1 or 2 days before symptoms appear with the flu. Also, you are contagious  5 to 7 days after symptoms develop.

When Do I need to See a Doctor?

If you have a cold, the following are signs you need to visit your doctor:

  • If your cold persists after 7 days
  • You develop a fever that doesn’t go down
  • Nagging cough (bronchitis), earache (ear infection), headache and blocked sinuses (sinusitis)

If you have the flu, the following are signs you need to visit your doctor:

  • Immediately if you are elderly, or have any existing heart and lung conditions
  • If your symptoms persist
  • If you develop symptoms of pneumonia

Staying Healthy

The best way to prevent the flu is by getting the flu vaccine. In most cases, we recommend getting the flu vaccine in October. However, you can still get the flu vaccine in late fall or winter.

To avoid contracting the flu virus, wash your hands regularly with soap and warm water, or use an alcohol-based hand sanitizer. In addition, avoid touching your nose, eyes and mouth. Try to stay away from anyone who has the flu or flu-like symptoms.

As for the cold, adopting healthy habits with help keep the illness at bay. Also, make sure you get plenty of sleep, eat lots of fruits and vegetables, exercise and manage your stress during cold and flu season and beyond.

These are just a few differences between the cold vs. flu. Contact us with the link below for more information, or to schedule an appointment with your doctor at Brashear Family Medical.

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