The common cold and influenza are upper respiratory infections caused by different viruses. Yet, knowing which infectious disease you have is oftentimes difficult because their symptoms can be similar.
One basic difference between a cold vs flu is one of extent. Flu is more intense and comes on suddenly. Cold is milder and comes on gradually. And symptoms of influenza linger longer.
Another way to tell is via some subtle differences between a common cold versus influenza symptoms. Start with your fever symptom. Generally, a common cold causes only a low fever, if at all. So if your temperature is above 101, then you more likely have influenza.
Next symptom differentiation is if you are only experiencing nasal congestion of a runny or stuffy nose with no other symptoms, you most likely just have the common cold. Versus influenza, you’ll probably experience some combination of these additional symptoms:
It’s difficult to tell the difference between a cold or flu based solely on these symptoms. And impossible to differentiate between seasonal flu versus swine flu.
Influenza can develop into serious health complications, especially for the elderly, such as:
In addition, some of the symptoms of a cold and flu can actually be caused by some other infection or health condition, for instance:
- fever ~ bacterial infection
- coughing ~ bronchitis, asthma
- congestion & headaches ~ bacterial sinusitis
- painful swallowing, severe sore throat ~ strep throat
If in doubt, have it checked out because what you think is a flu or cold may need antibiotic treatment.
Seek emergency health care attention if your symptoms heighten into:
- bluish skin
- persistent vomiting
- inability to drink fluids
- extreme irritability, distress
- fever accompanied by a rash
- severe chest pain, headache
- difficulty breathing, rapid breathing
Also, grab medical help if your symptoms start to improve and then suddenly worsen.