Common Cold Vs Flu: Differences Worth Knowing

Stuffy nose, scratchy throat, sneezing, coughing and feeling of tiresomeness.” You perhaps do not know if it is the common cold or flu. Sometimes symptoms of common cold and flu may overlap with each other and you may find it hard to know what exactly you are suffering from. Well! There are some differences worth knowing between common cold and flu. This article will talk about the differences between common cold and flu which indeed is important for everyone to be aware of.

Common Cold Vs Flu: Differences Worth Knowing

Common Cold Vs Flu: Differences worth Knowing!

We will now know about some of the differences between the common cold and Flu based on their symptoms, complication, treatments, preventions etc. hope this would be a beneficial read for you.

Common Cold Vs Flu: Basic Differences between the Two Conditions

Common cold is a respiratory infection that in fact is the most common conditions leading people to miss their daily work, school and go for a doctor’s visit. It is estimated by Centers for Disease control and prevention that each year approximately 22 million school days are lost due to common cold in United States of America. Generally common cold resolves quickly and the symptoms in cold are generally mild and in most cases do not cause any complications to health. The symptoms can last for 2 weeks in some cases. There are more than hundred different viruses which can cause common cold in man. However, Rhinovirus is the most common virus and is highly contagious. Common cold is mostly caught during the fall and winter seasons; though one can get cold any time of the year.

Flu or also known as Influenza is an upper respiratory illness which unlike common cold can cause some serious complications to health like pneumonia. This is most serious in young children, senior people, pregnant women and in people with immune-compromising health issues like heart disease, asthma or diabetes. Flu is generally seasonal and that is why also known as seasonal flu is and is mostly encountered during winter months. One can get flu with direct contacts with a sick person. Influenza A, B and C viruses are the agents causing seasonal flu.

Common Cold Vs Flu: Differences Based on the Symptoms of Common Cold and Flu

There are some differences in symptoms between the common cold and the flu. Here we will look at the symptoms of the common cold and flu.

Symptoms of Common Cold:

  • In case of common cold, a person rarely gets fever.
  • There can be rare experience of headache in common cold
  • There may be slight body ache, weakness and fatigue during common cold in body
  • Stuffy nose and sneezing are common symptoms in common cold.
  • Sore throat is also common in common cold conditions.
  • Moderate coughing is experienced in common cold conditions
  • There is never extreme exhaustion in common cold.

Symptoms of Flu:

  • Fever can be as high as 102 degrees F and can last for 2-3 days in flu
  • There is an intense headache in flu conditions
  • Severe body aches, fatigue and weakness in flu conditions and may last for 2-3 weeks
  • Sneezing, stuffy nose may be experienced sometimes in flu condition
  • Sore throat can also be experienced sometimes.
  • Coughing is severe when attacked by flu
  • There is extreme exhaustion in flu condition and it is common

Common Cold Vs Flu: Differences in the Complications due to the Conditions

Complications linked with common cold include sinus congestion, earache, asthma etc.

While in case of flu, the complications may include asthma, bronchitis, pneumonia etc and you may require the need of visiting a doctor or getting admitted in hospital.

Common Cold Vs Flu: Differences Based on the Treatments of Common Cold and Flu

As the two conditions differ from each other, they also differ in their treatments. Let us talk about the differences in treatments for common cold and flu.

Common colds being the viral infections; requires antibiotic treatments for effective recovery. However, there are over-the-counter medications like antihistamines, acetaminophen, decongestants and the non-steroidal anti-inflammatory medicines which can get you relief from congestion, aches and various other symptoms of the common cold. Taking Zinc, Vitamins, Echenacia etc during cold can be helpful. It is essential for you to stay at home and have rest and also drink plenty of water and other fluids if you are suffering from common cold. Usually colds get cured up in few days. In case your symptoms do not reduce in a week, go for doctor visit and take prescribed treatments.

Treatments for flu mainly include essential rests, drinking plenty of fluids and the over-the-counter medications like the decongestants and pain killers such as Ibuprofen, Acetaminophen etc which may be effective in controlling the symptoms in flu and make you feel better. It is essential to note that children must never be given Aspirin. You may be prescribed with antiviral medicines like Rapivab, Relenza, Tamiflu etc in order to treat flu and its symptoms. These drugs can help you reduce the symptoms in flu and also prevent the complications like pneumonia associated with flu.

Common Cold Vs Flu: Differences Based on the Prevention of Common Cold and Flu

Now, let us take a look on the differences between common cold and flu on the basis of their preventive measures.

There are no vaccines invented yet for cold. However, there are certainly some preventive measures known to us which can help us prevent common cold in man. Let us know about some preventive measures for common cold.

  1. Avoid contacts with sick: It is known that cold spread easily and thus it is essential to avoid contacts with the sick ones by not sharing their utensils, or any personal items like towel, toothbrush etc. It is also essential for you to stay at home in case you have common cold and avoid spreading cold.
  2. Maintain good hygiene: Practicing good hygiene is always a great way to prevent from many illnesses including the common cold. Wash your hands often, especially before and after meal so as to get rid of any germs, keep your hands away from your nose, mouth or eyes when they are not washed properly. Most importantly, always cover your nose and mouth while sneezing or coughing.

Now, coming to the modes of prevention against flu here is what we have listed down.

  1. Getting the flu shot or the flu vaccine before the start of flu season is the best preventive mode against flu.
  2. It is essential for you to wash your hands often with warm water and alcohol based hand sanitizer in order to avoid getting up the influenza virus.
  3. Keep away from direct contacts with people affect by flu
  4. Take healthy diets, like fruits and vegetables, have regular exercise, take proper sleep and manage your stress levels in order to prevent flu from attacking you easily.


So, now we are known to the differences between the two conditions, i.e. common cold and flu. Hope you are visiting your doctor and getting yourself the best possible diagnosis and treatments for your illness during the cold and flu season.

Pramod Kerkar, M.D., FFARCSI, DA
Pramod Kerkar, M.D., FFARCSI, DA
Written, Edited or Reviewed By: Pramod Kerkar, M.D., FFARCSI, DA Pain Assist Inc. This article does not provide medical advice. See disclaimer
Last Modified On:August 22, 2022

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