By in Health & Fitness

For Your Health: How to Know If You Have a Cold or the Flu

With the kids back in school, the weather turning cooler and damper, it's that time of year again: Cold and flu season.

Both respiratory illnesses are caused by viruses, so antibiotics will be of no help in getting rid of the infections. There are, however, antiviral medications your health care provider can prescribe to aid in reducing the severity of the flu, so it's helpful to be able to tell whether you have a cold or the flu.

Often the difference between a common cold and the flu will be the severity of the symptoms:

Common Cold

  • Runny or stuffy nose
  • Sore throat
  • No fever
  • Coughing, mild to moderate
  • Sometimes mild muscle aches and pains
  • Sometimes mild weakness
  • Sometimes chest discomfort


  • Fever first few days
  • Chills
  • Muscle aches and pains which may be moderate to severe
  • Headache
  • Coughing, moderate to severe
  • Moderate to severe tiredness and weakness
  • Chest discomfort
  • Sometimes runny or stuffy nose, sore throat

For complete chart of symptoms, visit Wellness.UCI.EDU

Knowing the difference between symptoms of the common cold and the flu will help you make the decision whether to visit your health care provider or simply stay home and self-treat. The antiviral medications for treatment of the flu work best when taken within the first two days of symptoms, so early recognition of the symptoms is in your best health interest.

Resources: " Cold vs. Flu: Know the Difference " " Treatment " " Cold remedies: What works, what doesn't and what can't hurt "

| | | |

Image Credit » Public Domain CCO License via Pixabay OpenClips

You will need an account to comment - feel free to register or login.


MegL wrote on October 8, 2014, 10:24 AM

Very helpful, thanks. Too many people claim they have flu when really, it's a bad cold.

Feisty56 wrote on October 8, 2014, 10:28 AM

My problem is that for some reason I still associate the flu with stomach and gastrointestinal symptoms. Yes, my mind knows better when it comes to others, but for myself, I tend to think of any respiratory illness as a cold.

melody23 wrote on October 8, 2014, 11:31 AM

A lot of people think they have the flu when they have a bad cold, as someone who has unfortunately had both (I had flu over Christmas once) I can say that once you have had flu you will know because it is such an awful way to feel. Obviously people who have never had flu don't know what it feels like though and that's where posts like this one come in! The biggest difference between the two in my experience is when I have the cold I am tired, usually due to not sleeping very well for coughing or not being able to breathe through my nose, but when I had flu I was exhausted, like properly barely had the energy to sit up and get a drink of water type of exhausted.

BarbRad wrote on October 9, 2014, 11:31 PM

Whether cold or flu, I wish those who are sick would stay home from work, school, etc. to keep from exposing others.

Feisty56 wrote on October 9, 2014, 11:34 PM

Thanks for this. Knock on wood, I don't believe I've had the flu for many years. I do, though, usually get one or two colds per year.

Feisty56 wrote on October 9, 2014, 11:36 PM

I wish that would happen too, but even -- or especially -- working in health care, I can tell you you are not encouraged to go home or stay home when you are sick. Now, that may not be the official word, but in reality, that's how it goes.

melody23 wrote on October 10, 2014, 9:19 AM

if I called in sick with a cold I would be told to get my butt out of bed and get in to work lol. Only time we are encouraged to take time off is if we have a tummy bug, just in case its norovirus or C.diff. I have even been in theatre with tonsillitis which I thought was totally wrong but the theatre staff were aware and told me it was fine as long as I kept my face mask on. To be fair the operation was not high risk for something like tonsillitis (ortho surgery) but I still felt I shouldn't have been there just in case.

melody23 wrote on October 10, 2014, 9:21 AM

I am very prone to the cold as well, its work I am sure. When I worked in the pub I was in contact with a lot of people and used to catch every bug going, now I deliberately work with sick people so I catch even more lol.

BarbRad wrote on October 11, 2014, 1:17 AM

That's scary.