What’s The Difference Between Cold and Flu Virus? | ANSWERED

March 09, 2020 7 min read

Right now, it’s imperative for people to stay healthy as new illnesses, such as the COVID-19 Pandemic, rage the population, and misinformation is spread faster than the illnesses themselves. It’s easy to give in to the paranoia and try to self-diagnose through the web, especially during cold and flu virus season. 

What’s important to remember with these two prevalent sicknesses, however, is that while related to one another, the cold and flu are drastically different beasts altogether.

With this being the case, it’s important that you’re able to tell the difference between the inconvenient one and the potentially deadly one prior to rushing to the ER.

The Two Kingpins

The cold and flu bugs are the most common diseases found in humans, with roughly five to twenty percent of the American population alone developing one or both at least once every single year.

They truly reign supreme in the world of rampant illness, and the main reason for this is because they spread just as rampantly as their reputations. 

Let’s face it, many of us aren’t nearly as hygienic as we honestly should be. We either refuse to wash our hands frequently, sneeze directly in front of people, refuse to stay home while sick, etc.

Because of this, and because of the tendency of a virus to continue changing, nobody alive can claim to have never gotten sick once in their lives. (we’re looking at you, Papa Q. Bear.)

Cold Symptoms Vs. Flu Symptoms

cold vs flu symptoms

While the symptoms of the two sicknesses vary wildly, they do have several factors in common. For one thing, both are caused by a virus that attacks and infects your airways to start off with, but that’s just the beginning.

Both often feature heavy, dry coughing and body aches, sneezing, body aches of varying degrees, etc. However, the key thing between all of these symptoms is the varying degree in which they occur, as well as the types of symptoms, as well as any co-morbidities-e.g. underlying health conditions such as asthma or diabetes.

What’s often found in one may or may not be found at all in the other, and vice versa. Some symptoms even show up in children where they’re practically nonexistent in adults.

Symptoms such as nausea and vomiting tend to show up somewhat infrequently in children, while the vast majority of adults show no such signs. This is likely due to the more “battle-hardened” an adult body is versus the still “new” body belonging to the child. 

Adults have built up slightly more defense against such invaders over the years and have more “experience”, if you will. Taking this into account, it makes it all the more vital to learn to recognize the symptoms and which ones belong to which illness. If you’re not sure, check out cold or flu symptom checker websites such as WebMD.

What Is The Flu?

The flu, better known as Influenza, is an upper respiratory illness that, unlike the cold, isn’t seasonal whatsoever. It does more or less have a season, relegated mostly from November to March, but beyond that, it can be caught 365/24/7.

Both the flu and the cold are caught the exact same ways; droplets spread either through touch or by air, such as sneezing in the general direction of another. (cover your mouths, people, seriously, consider wearing a mask when sick or around sick people.

Influenza comes in three convenient types; Influenza A, B, and C, with A and B being the most common. The strains vary each year, which is why a new vaccine must be developed every year to try to keep up with the changes.


Cold symptoms in adults or flu in adults and children tend to be as follows:


  • Stuffy or runny nose
  • Sneezing
  • Cold cough (phlegm is often seen)
  • Sore throat
  • Body aches (usually mild)
  • Fever (rare in adults)
  • Symptoms are slow to arrive


  • Stuffy nose
  • Sneezing
  • Flu cough (usually dry)
  • Sore throat
  • Body aches (severe and often all over)
  • Nausea (rare)
  • Fever
  • Chills and sweats
  • Fatigue
  • Symptoms can appear and worsen within hours.

The biggest thing regarding the similarity of the symptoms is how fast they come on. With a cold, you might spend the first day or so feeling a bit off, like something just doesn’t feel right.

You’ll notice within the next day or two that you’re really feeling awful. Colds usually don’t last longer than a week, though the symptoms may linger. 

How long does the flu last? The flu is a bit trickier; you can wake up in the morning feeling perfectly fine and healthy, but by that evening, you’re too weak to even raise your head.

Flu symptoms last 1-2 weeks, but some, like fatigue, can hold on for far longer than that.

Danger Levels

dangerously ill flu

Let’s get this out of the way right now; colds aren’t usually dangerous. They might be an inconvenience at most, but you are not likely to require a hospital stay for a mere cold.

Besides, it’s a viral infection, so seeking any medicine beyond decongestant and fever reducers won’t do you any good anyway. The only time you might have to worry about a cold being a major problem is if your lungs were recently compromised somehow.

A flu, on the other hand, can be very dangerous, and it kills over 20,000 people per year. This is mostly due to complications it can cause such as pneumonia, which on its own can often be a completely silent killer.

Cases of flu can carry extremely high fevers along with them, which can cause extreme nausea and vomiting or diarrhea in children, which can lead to dangerous dehydration. 

Those with compromised lungs and airways from the get-go run the risk of developing more severe infections or straight up suffocating. If you suspect you may have the flu, it’s important to get checked by the doctor as soon as you can.


Both illnesses are viral in nature, so antibiotics aren’t going to help whatsoever if you do have to go to the hospital. For colds, it’s possible to take decongestants and antihistamines to clear the airways and make it easier to breathe.

You should also make sure to drink plenty of fluids to prevent dehydration, since your body will be sucking itself dry trying to flush the illness out of your system, so to speak. 

There are some natural cold remedies you can try, such as local honey in herbal tea, which is loaded with antioxidants to strengthen your immune system.

Flus are very similar in that they can’t be cured. If you find yourself growing worse from flu symptoms, the most you can hope to do for flu treatment is to take fever reducers such as Tylenol or Ibuprofen to try to ease the aches and fever. 

If you’re getting severe enough nausea, you also run the risk of dehydrating even faster, especially if you’re vomiting. Here, the hospital can give you saline treatments to keep your body hydrated, as well as medicine to calm nausea, but beyond that, all you can do for either is to ride them out.


Avoiding either illness brings us back to hygiene. We may have a vaccine for the flu, but the cold changes so darn much that developing a vaccine for it is nigh impossible.

Colds spread extremely easily and the best way to avoid them and their more deadly cousin is to avoid illness and risk of illness. 

Don’t touch your face or eyes, don’t share utensils, wash your hands with hot water and soap for at least thirty seconds, and avoid contact with anyone who claims to, or shows symptoms of being sick.

Who Is Most At Risk?

high risk cold flu

Typically, where the flu is concerned, the greatest risk targets are usually a small demographic of people, relatively speaking. In general, the majority of society has little to worry about regarding the flu, as unpleasant as it may be. 

Most people will get it, suffer for a week or two, and then recover with few if any lasting impacts. No, the groups to worry the most about the flu are:

  • Pregnant women
  • Children
  • Elderly
  • People weakened with existing health conditions

These people will be most at risk if the flu is contracted since their immune systems are either still developing.

It could also be compromised by a pre-existing condition that forces them to work overtime, or even just strained from years and years of defense.

Is There a Doctor in The House?

Now before you panic, you need to realize that even though you might have identified your symptoms as those of the flu, you might not be in need of a doctor.

Like we stated, if you’re a healthy, grown adult without any conditions beforehand, you’re almost guaranteed to be fine. 

However, if by chance you do begin to notice certain symptoms, then, by all means, call the doctor. More severe symptoms include:

  • Difficulty breathing
  • Cough producing green mucus
  • Chest pain
  • Severe sore throat
  • Persistent, high fever

Best Form of Prevention

Honestly, to prevent from getting the flu, just do your best to stay healthy. The is no quick and easy remedy on how to cure flu fast. Aside from a proper diet and regular exercise, staying hydrated, taking a high-quality multivitamin/mineral, you can also start by getting the flu vaccine, which, contrary to popular belief, will not make you get the flu. It’s best to get in October as the flu season is kicking off. 

If you do happen to catch it, the vaccine will make it easier for you to fight it off faster.

Wash your hands, stay away from those with the flu and don’t touch your face. And above all, try not to stress out. That just weakens your body entirely and you really don’t need more of it.


Looking at flu vs cold treatment, the cold and flu are two very different illnesses with different symptoms, as well as different means of care and treatment.

Your chances of recovery are generally going to be higher, especially from the cold, but it’s better that you do your best to avoid getting sick altogether.


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TestRRX Admin
TestRRX Admin

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