Colds vs Flu – What You Need To Know

Your nose is running, you’re all clogged up, and you just want to go to sleep. Generally, you’ll tell your friends, boss and any concerned parties that you’ve got the flu – but do you? There’s a lot of confusion around the differences and similarities between a cold and the flu, as they cause similar symptoms.

If you want a family of healthy kids and adults though, it’s important to know the difference as flu is generally more serious and can cause further complications. Here’s some information you can use to tell whether it’s a cold doing the rounds, or a more serious bout of the flu.

Aren’t they the same thing?

Colds and flu do definitely have some similarities. Both are viruses which cause similar symptoms and affect the respiratory system. Flu is caused by the influenza virus, whereas colds can be caused by more than two hundred different viruses, over half of them Rhinovirus.

So how do I know which is which?

The flu is normally far more severe than a cold, and the symptoms will last longer. However, in the early stages, it can be very hard to tell which you have. There are some guidelines, however.

When you have the flu, you might have a runny nose or sneezing, but normally these symptoms are worse with a cold. People with flu generally have symptoms which come on very quickly and last a couple of weeks:

  • Severe muscular and body aches
  • Severe headache
  • Fatigue or exhaustion lasting up to three or four weeks
  • Sore throat
  • Cough
  • Chills
  • High fever (of around 39) which lasts for 3-4 days

If you have a cold, your symptoms should clear up after a week to ten days, and you will find that they come on more gradually than the flu. You may have a slight fever. Here are some typical cold symptoms:

  • Sneezing
  • Runny nose
  • Sore throat
  • Cough
  • Mild headache
  • Mild tiredness or fatigue

How do I avoid them?

Infection prevention is a little easier in the flu, as there is a vaccination against it which is fairly effective and readily available. There is no vaccination against the common cold, unfortunately! Because both flu and colds are caused by viruses, you can also minimise your chances of contracting them a huge amount by simply washing your hands regularly and thoroughly with germ protection soap and warm water. Be particularly vigilant about handwashing before eating, after using the bathroom, and when in contact with people who you think might have flu or a cold.