Do you have a cold or the flu?

While we throw around "cold and flu season" pretty frivolously this time of year, these are two different viruses that require specific treatment plans to help you get back on your feet!

The common cold and the flu share similar symptoms, so it can be tough to tell which ailment you've contracted. But there are important differences between the two ailments, and knowing how to spot them can help you avoid major complications if they are not treated correctly.

Here's a rundown from the Mayo Clinic detailing what you can expect from both ailments, and how to spot the distinct warning signs that set them apart.

Common Cold: A mild respiratory illness caused by a virus, the most common of which is rhinovirus.


  • Nasal congestion
  • Sore throat
  • Cough
  • Slight body aches or a mild headache
  • Sneezing
  • Low-grade fever
  • Fatigue

Flu: A more advanced respiratory illness caused by various influenza strains that change on a seasonal basis.


  • Fever over 100.4 F (38 C)
  • Sore throat
  • Nasal congestion
  • Aching muscles, especially in your back, arms and legs
  • Chills and sweats
  • Headache
  • Dry, persistent cough
  • Fatigue and weakness

How can I tell the difference between the common cold and flu?

In the most basic sense of the word, the easiest way to tell if you have the common cold or the flu is the severity of your symptoms. According to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), the common cold shares many of the same symptoms as the flu, but they are far less intense.

High fever, muscle or body aches and pains, chills and excessive fatigue are the tell-tale signs that your ailment is something far more advanced than the run-of-the-mill cold. The common cold will run its course in a few days with bed rest, fluids and cold and allergy products to manage your symptoms. The flu can take several weeks to completely pass.

It is recommended that those with the flu virus begin taking antiviral drugs within 48 hours of experiencing symptoms. With both conditions, if symptoms linger or become worse over time, seek medical attention immediately.

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