The Difference Between Flu & Cold Symptoms

A lot of people think that the flu and a cold are the same thing, but they actually aren't. So what are the main differences? Keep reading to learn more.
The Difference Between Flu & Cold Symptoms

A lot of people think that the flu and a cold are the same thing, but they actually aren’t. When looking at the flu vs. cold, there are actually quite a few differences. These differences pretty much define what kind of sickness it is and this article was put together to help you identify which one it is.


The first thing you need to consider when it comes to the flu vs colds are what the causes are. Remember, the flu usually happens in flu season while a cold can happen anytime. Another thing to keep in mind is that the flu can happen even if it isn’t flu season, so keep reading to see the causes of both.

Flu Causes

First, we’ll take a look at what causes the flu. Generally, the flu lasts for around 1 to 2 weeks and can actually be deadly. The only way you can catch the flu is if you come into contact with the Influenza A, B or C viruses.

With that being said, there are actually quite a few ways you could catch the virus without even realizing that you came into contact with it. Some of those ways are listed below.

  • Being near an infected person when they cough or sneeze
  • Kissing someone infected
  • Breathing it in
  • Touching anything infected, like bathroom handles or chairs

Common Cold Causes

A cold, on the other hand, can be caused by several different kinds of viruses, the most common is any of the rhinoviruses. While most colds only last about a week, some can stay for 2 weeks or longer. Some of the ways common colds are caused are listed below.

  • Having hand-to-hand contact with an infected person
  • Breathing in contaminated air
  • Touching objects that have the virus, such as phones or towels

Once you’ve touched something that’s infected, you catch the virus if you touch your eyes, nose, and mouth.


Next thing to know is what kind of symptoms you can expect to experience with each type of illness. There are a lot of the same symptoms, but there are also ones that are different. Often times, the symptoms will help you figure out exactly which illness you have.

Flu Symptoms

First, let’s look at the common symptoms of the flu. Remember that these symptoms can be pretty severe and, in some cases, can lead to death.

  • Fever, with or without chills
  • Cough
  • Sore throat
  • Runny or stuffy nose
  • Muscle and/or body aches
  • Headaches
  • Tiredness
  • Vomiting
  • Diarrhea

One thing to keep in mind is that someone with the flu won’t necessarily have all of these symptoms. They might only have a few and the only real way to know is by going to the doctor.

Common Cold Symptoms

Most of the time, common cold symptoms are pretty easy to recognize. They can be bad but aren’t usually too severe. They should clear up in a few days.

  • Runny and/or stuffy nose
  • Sore throat
  • Cough
  • Congestion
  • Mild body aches and/or a headache
  • Sneezing
  • Low-grade fever
  • General unwell feeling


Finally, you’ll want to know how treatment differs with the flu vs colds. The flu is much different the common cold, so it’s only natural that flu treatment would be different. It’s important to know how each illness is treated, so you aren’t experiencing the sickness longer than you need to.

Flu Treatment

When looking at flu treatment, there are quite a few things that can really help. Some of these will need to be prescribed by a doctor, while others can be done at home.

  • Prescription medications
  • Over the counter decongestants
  • Antihistamines
  • Plenty of fluids
  • Rest

Keep in mind, newer strains of the virus might not respond to medications and you’ll have a harder time getting rid of it.

Common Cold Treatment

For the treatment of a cold, there are a few different things you can do. The majority of these can be done at home, but there are a few you can get a prescription for.

  • Pain relievers, like acetaminophen
  • Decongestants
  • Nasal sprays
  • Cough syrup
  • Rest
  • Fluids
  • Cough drops or spray

The only things that will require a prescription are certain kinds of pain relievers and cough syrups. Everything else on the list can be bought over the counter and some things can’t be bought, like the rest.

Find an Insurance Plan Today

Need to sign up for a Health Insurance or Medicare plan now? We can help you find one that's perfect for you.
Find Plans