Flu or Cold: What’s the Difference?


When you had a cough, runny nose, fever and headache, you may wonder whether it’s a cold or the flu.

A cold and the flu are both respiratory viruses, so the symptoms often are similar, although a cold usually is less severe.

Seasonal flu can result from the influenza A or B viruses, while a cold is caused by one of more than 200 different viruses. To determine whether it’s a cold or the flu, note these differences:

  • Cold – stuffy nose, sore throat, sneezing, watery eyes, runny nose, fever less than 102 degrees Fahrenheit; usually symptoms disappear gradually
  • Flu – similar symptoms as a cold, but they come on without warning, along with nausea, cough without phlegm, chills, body aches, sweating, lack of appetite and a fever above 102

According to medical professionals, flu and cold symptoms may last up to 10 days. But since both are viruses, antibiotics are not an effective treatment option. (Antibiotics are designed for bacterial infections.) Instead get extra rest, drink plenty of fluids, take over-the-counter medications to treat symptoms and avoid smoking and alcohol. If the symptoms last more than 10-14 days, contact your doctor’s office for an evaluation.

To learn more about flu and colds, and how they’re impacting the U.S., check out the Cold, Flu and Cough Health Center provided by WebMD.