Is It a Cold or the Flu?

A sniffle here, a cough there; it’s not unusual to start feeling under the weather this time of year. We’re hovering around flu season, but the fall can also bring seasonal allergies or the common cold. When there’s the potential for either, how can you tell whether you have a cold or the flu? Well the most important thing is knowing the difference between the cold and the flu.

The common cold is a viral infection of your upper respiratory tract. This includes your nose, nasal cavity, mouth, throat, and larynx. A cold can be caused by more than 100 different viruses but it is most often caused by coronaviruses or rhinoviruses. The infection is typically harmless. A cold might last as little as a few days, or as long as a couple of weeks. Cold symptoms include:

  • Runny nose
  • Sore throat
  • Coughing
  • Watery eyes
  • Sneezing
  • Congestion

Video: Dr. Joshua Rankin of FirstCare Family Doctors talks about Cold and Flu Season

If you have a cold you might have one, two, or all of these symptoms, and the severity can range from delicate sneeze to room-silencing hacking. While the common cold is unpleasant most people recover fairly quickly. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, children average 12 colds a year, while adults average 7 colds per year.

The flu, on the other hand, is far more serious.

The flu, or influenza, is a dangerous and highly contagious disease caused by the influenza virus. Each year, the flu causes millions of illnesses, hundreds of thousands of hospitalizations, and results in thousands of deaths. Many flu symptoms are similar to cold symptoms, however flu symptoms are typically more severe. A cold might force you tote a tissue box around for a few days, but the flu can leave you bedridden.

The biggest difference between the cold and the flu is the high fever that can come with influenza. Both cold and flu can lead to other health complications, but with the flu, these complications can be fatal.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention recommends that anyone over the age of 6 months get an annual flu vaccination. Flu shots are an important step in preventing the influenza virus, and can help keep you, your family, and your community safe.

If you’re feeling ill, and you don’t know whether it’s the flu or a cold, go ahead and schedule an appointment with your primary care physician, or visit one of the MediServe Walk-In Clinics for immediate medical care.