Ambar Jimenez
2024-04-10 10:49:58

Both the common cold and the flu are caused by respiratory viruses that affect the respiratory organs. The flu is generally more severe, and often leads to complications, whereas complications from the common cold are rare. Many people struggle to differentiate between a cold and the flu. In this article, I explain how to distinguish between the two. Importantly, whether it's a cold or flu, it's better to stay home to prevent worsening your condition and infecting others, especially considering that many activities can now be done online. For example, I enjoy playing poker, so when I have a cold or flu, I play at non-UK-based online casinos without leaving home.

What is a cold in simple words?

A cold is an upper respiratory tract infection that affects the sinuses and throat. Colds spread easily in closed spaces such as homes, schools, daycare centers, and workplaces. More than 200 different viruses can cause the common cold. About half of all people with a cold report a scratchy or sore throat as their first symptom. Other common cold symptoms that may occur early on include:

  • Sneezing
  • Runny nose
  • Nasal congestion
  • Cough
  • Hoarseness

Rhinoviruses cause up to 50% of all colds. There are more than 100 different rhinoviruses. But other types of viruses, such as coronaviruses, can also cause colds. In total, more than 200 different viruses can cause the common cold.

What is flu?

"Flu" is short for influenza, and it is a highly contagious viral infection of the respiratory tract. The severity of an influenza infection can vary. Doctors distinguish the following 3 types of influenza:

  • Light flu: The temperature usually does not exceed 38°C.
  • Moderate flu: Fever can reach 39-39.5°C. 
  • Severe course - the pathology begins with lightning speed when the temperature rises to 40°C. The fever is combined with severe headache, muscle and joint pain.

Early flu symptoms include:

  • A sharp increase in temperature
  • Headaches and muscle pain
  • Chills
  • Dry cough, accompanied by pain in the chest
  • Aches throughout the body
  • General weakness

Is it flu or cold?

Colds are often confused with the flu, with people mistaking one for the other. Remember that flu is a relatively harmless disease that usually passes quickly, is easily cured, and rarely causes complications. In contrast, the illness caused by the influenza virus is more severe and can lead to complications such as pneumonia.Let me now explain to you the difference between the two illnesses. I mean their symptoms.

Onset of the disease

A cold typically comes on gradually, while the flu attacks suddenly. Symptoms of cold start with a scratchy or sore throat, followed by nasal congestion, runny nose, sneezing, and coughing. The flu in most cases is sudden and severe. 

Body temperature

A cold may not cause a rise in body temperature every time, but it's almost guaranteed with the flu.


People with a cold can usually continue working or studying, but those with the flu often need to stay in bed.


Chills are uncommon with a cold, but common with the flu.They occur as a result of the body's response to infection. The chills with the flu are usually abrupt and can be quite intense. Chills caused by a cold are milder and come on gradually. 

Muscle aches

Muscle aches are rare with a cold, but more common with the flu.


Sneezing is common with a cold, but not typical for the flu.When you have a cold, sneezing is often one of the earliest symptoms. When sneezing occurs with the flu, it is often accompanied by a dry cough and congestion. 


A cough caused by a cold usually doesn't interfere with daily life, but with the flu, it often does.


Headaches are not always present with a cold, but are almost guaranteed with the flu.

Flu Treatment

Most people recover from the flu on their own. However, those with severe symptoms or with other medical conditions should get medical help.

For those with mild symptoms, it's recommended to:

  • Stay home to avoid infecting others.
  • Rest.
  • Drink plenty of water.
  • Manage other symptoms, such as fever.
  • Seek medical help if symptoms worsen.

High-risk individuals or those experiencing severe symptoms should receive antiviral medications promptly. Also, call your doctor if you are pregnant woman, have chronic diseases or undergoing chemotherapy. Although I describe a cold as a mild illness, untreated, its consequences can be as severe as the flu.

Effective treatments for colds

If you have a cold, expect to be sick for one to two weeks. However, this doesn't mean you have to suffer through it. Your body may run a fever, but it's also possible to have a cold without one. These remedies and methods can help you feel better:

  • Your body needs rest to heal. So, stay home in bed.
  • Drink plenty of water, juice, light broth to ease nasal congestion. Do not drink  alcohol, coffee, and caffeinated sodas, as they can worsen dehydration.
  • Gargle with salt water to relieve a sore throat. You can also try sore throat sprays, lozenges, or throat lozenges.
  • Use nasal drops and sprays to alleviate congestion. For infants, experts recommend instilling a few drops of saline solution to ease symptoms.
  • Honey can help ease coughs in adults and children. Add it to hot tea.
  • If you have a vaporizer, use it to increase moisture in the air, which also helps relieve congestion. Remember to change the water daily and clean the device.
  • Adults and children aged 5 and older can take over-the-counter decongestants, antihistamines, and pain relievers to alleviate symptoms. However, they won't prevent colds or shorten their duration, and most have side effects. So, consult your doctor before taking any.
  • Remember to wash your hands often and ventilate yor room.

And most importantly, if you notice that your condition is worsening, avoid self-medication and immediately consult a doctor instead.

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