Cold or Flu? Signs to Look For

Cold or Flu

When you or your little one doesn’t feel well, it can seem difficult to determine whether it is a simple common cold that needs to run its course, or flu (or strep throat), which needs medical attention. There are several indicators that can help you decide what the best treatment is.

What is Flu?

HeadacheInfluenza, more commonly call the ‘flu’, takes several forms. It can be mild or severe enough to lead to death. As a viral illness, treatment needs to go beyond the basics of making oneself comfortable. One of the key indicators is that colds come on slowly while the flu is a sudden illness.

Flu Symptoms

The list of symptoms includes:

  • Sore throat
  • Fever and/or chills
  • Body aches
  • Tiredness
  • Cough
  • Headache
  • Runny nose or nasal congestion
  • Vomiting or diarrhea

While you or your child may only experience some of these symptoms, they are all possible. This is also true of fever. It is also possible to have a cold and the flu at the same time. That’s why a medical professional needs to make an assessment soyou can get the right treatment and be on the road to recovery.

Complications with Flu

pneumoniaWhile most people who contract the flu will get better in about two weeks, it is possible to experience complications such as pneumonia. This can be a life-threatening situation and lead to death if it is not treated appropriately. Other complications include sinus and ear infections which can be caused from a viral infection, or by a combination of a viral and bacterial infection. Myocarditis (heart infection), encephalitis (brain infection), myositis (muscle tissue inflammation) and multiple organ failure such as kidney or respiratory failure can also occur.

This is not to frighten anyone but to highlight the importance of seeing a medical professional to prevent additional conditions from occurring. As Dr. Gregory Blomquist, Chief Medical Officer with Community Med urgent care clinic in Arlington, Texas, advises, “With any condition that you’re not completely certain of, it always pays to get diagnosed and treatment begun as quickly and as effectively as possible.”

People at Risk for Flu

Every year, many people contract colds and flu but some are more susceptible than others. People with chronic health issues, such as heart disease or asthma, are at higher risk. Persons older than 65 years of age are another group at higher risk. Pregnant women also need to take extra precautions. Children under five are also in the higher-risk category so it’s important to consult their pediatrician.

How to Tell the Difference between Cold and Flu

Cold-and-Flu-SymptomsIt can be difficult to differentiate between the common cold and the flu but there are several signs that should be taken into consideration. First of all, how quickly did the illness come on? Flu comes on very quickly while a cold takes several days to develop. A high fever is another indicator. While a cold may bring some low-grade fever, it won’t spike exceptionally high. Also, the flu will sap a person’s energy levels, reduce appetite and cause body aches. Chills are another important sign that you may be dealing with the flu and not a cold.

Coughing, runny nose and sneezing occurs with both illnesses.


Unfortunately, there are no treatments for a cold beyond TLC, fluids and adequate rest. Flu, though, can be treated with antiviral drugs.

Home Remedies

doctor prescribes an antiviralWhether it is a cold or the flu, there are several things that can make you or your child feel better. Plenty of fluids and rest are one key to getting better. Acetaminophen and Ibuprofen can help bring down fever and deal with body aches. If the doctor prescribes an antiviral, follow the plan closely.

When to Seek Help

The time to see a medical professional is when you have any doubts about the nature of the illness. A cold will eventually get better but if you or your child starts to get worse or has trouble breathing it’s time to see a medical professional, especially if you experience increased weakness or disorientation.


handwashingThe best prevention is regular handwashing and good hygiene. A flu shot is an effective step toward preventing the flu. The flu tends to be a seasonal illness (which is why the flu shot changes each year). It most often occurs in the winter months, while a cold can happen at any time of the year.

Article Submitted By Community Writer

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