Cold or Flu: How to Tell the Difference

Are you sneezing a lot with cough and have that achy and feeling that you seem don’t want to move? If so, you might be having cold or flu? More often people use the terms interchangeably. So what’s the difference between a cold and flu? Let’s find out!

People should understand and able to identify the symptoms for cold and flu. A cold is a milder respiratory condition than flu. Having a cold makes someone feel weak and just want to cuddle up in bed for days. With flu, the symptoms experienced make a person ill for days to weeks. Flu is a result of underlying disease conditions such as pneumonia.

Symptoms of Common Cold

A person notices sore throat first if he or she has colds. Usually the throat discomforts goes away after a day or two. Physical symptoms such as nasal secretion and congestion and cough are experienced on the fourth and fifth day. In adults fever is uncommon, although a slight fever may possibly be felt. When children have cold, the symptoms are usually accompanied by fever.

For the first few days, the nose is teemed with nasal secretions. As the condition progresses it becomes thicker and darker in color. Darkening of the mucus is just part of natural process. It doesn’t mean anything, in contrast to what most people think that the condition developed to a bacterial or sinus infection.

Symptoms of Flu

The following are symptoms of flu:

  • Sore throat
  • Fever
  • Headache
  • Muscle aches
  • Nasal congestion
  • Cough

People who are experiencing swine flu also are seen to be having diarrheal and vomiting episodes.

Improvement in the condition is usually noticed by day two to five. But most people are experiencing body weakness for over a week, possibly more for some. Common flu complications include pneumonia. People with a heart disease are more prone to contracting the complication. When shortness of breath is experienced, a physician should be called in for evaluation. In addition to shortness of breath, pneumonia has most likely developed if the fever comes back after having a normal temperature for a day or more.

Duration of Illness

Symptoms of colds usually last for a week. Individuals with cold should know that during the first three days, they are contagious so staying home is critical at this point to avoid passing it on to others. However, if the condition seem to persist for a week then bacterial infection should be suspected and antibiotic therapy should be implemented.


 Image courtesy of

Daisy Jane Antipuesto RN MN

Currently a Nursing Local Board Examination Reviewer. Subjects handled are Pediatric, Obstetric and Psychiatric Nursing. Previous work experiences include: Clinical instructor/lecturer, clinical coordinator (Level II), caregiver instructor/lecturer, NC2 examination reviewer and staff/clinic nurse. Areas of specialization: Emergency room, Orthopedic Ward and Delivery Room. Also an IELTS passer.

What Do You Think?