Home HealthTopics Health Centers Reference Library Research
Join us on Facebook Join us on Facebook Share on Facebook

Pandemic Flu

Cold Versus Flu



How can I tell the difference between a cold and the flu? Are they treated differently? What can I do to make sure my family and I don`t get either the cold or the flu this season?


It is not possible to tell the difference between a cold and the flu when you first become ill. A cold can be caused by a variety of different viruses. The usual symptoms are nasal congestion, a runny nose, and sometimes a sore throat, cough, sinus pain, or fever. The symptoms of the flu include fever, headache, muscle pain, nasal congestion, sore throat, cough and fatigue. The symptoms of flu tend to become more severe than the symptoms of a cold. Persons with flu tend to have higher fevers than persons with colds.

Physicians' offices sometimes have rapid detection kits for the flu. There are no rapid detection kits for a cold. Colds and flu are both treated with rest, plenty of fluids and a pain and fever reliever. Antiviral medications are available for the flu that will decrease the time that people have symptoms (up to a 1-day reduction in symptoms).

Most people just wait until they recover from either illness. The main issue with influenza is that it makes some individuals extremely ill. If this happens, the individual needs to seek medical care. As always, drink plenty of fluids and take medication to relieve pain and fever.

There is no way to make 100% sure that you and your family will not get either a cold or the flu this season other than isolating yourself and your family from all contacts with others. The best way to greatly reduce your chances of getting flu is for you and your family to each get flu shots this season. You can probably reduce your chances of getting the flu or a cold this season by washing your hands after coming in contact with others and before eating, staying away from people who are coughing, and coughing and sneezing into your elbow instead of into your hand or into the air.

For more information:

Go to the Pandemic Flu health topic, where you can:

Response by:

John  Andrews, MD, MPH John Andrews, MD, MPH
Assistant Senior Vice President Medical Center
Director University Health Services
University of Cincinnati