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Cold vs. Flu: How to Spot the Difference

Your nose is running, your head is pounding, and you just want to curl up in your bed. You know you’re sick but is it the cold or the flu?

Both viruses come with symptoms similar to one another, but there are some specific differences between the two that you should look for when deciding if you need to see a doctor.

To learn about the similarities and differences between the cold vs. flu, keep reading.

What It Feels Like

A regular cold will feel like a blocked-up nose; there’ll likely be sneezing, lots of nose-blowing, and a headache or two.

You’ve likely felt these symptoms growing in intensity over the last couple days. Although you’re able to do your daily tasks like going to work and making dinner, you don’t feel great and you can’t wait to sleep it off.

The flu, on the other hand, seemingly comes out of nowhere.

You have the same symptoms as a cold, only they’re amplified and added to. You now also have a fever, body aches, nausea, and vomiting. One day you’re fine, the next day you’re hit head-on by the flu.

What’s the Difference?

Both illnesses are caused by a virus you catch by touching an object or another person that is infected already.

Viruses are tiny bacteria that require a host, like a human, to survive. They live in the body and take over some of your cells, forcing them to create more viral bacteria.

A cold is caused by being infected with a rhinovirus. The flu is short for influenza virus.

Cold vs. Flu Danger

Colds affect everyone at one point or another and are relatively harmless. They usually go away after 1-3 weeks of slowly diminishing symptoms.

The flu is also common but dangerous in certain populations.

When children have the flu, it can potentially lead to pneumonia or other infections in the body. Kids have a couple other symptoms unique to their age-group:

  • Trouble waking up from a nap
  • Refusing to drink fluids
  • Refusing to be held or comforted
  • Irritable

Older adults, like kids, are also vulnerable to catching pneumonia. In both age groups, if the flu reoccurs regularly (one day you feel better, the next you have it again), you should see a doctor.

Luckily, for most people, the regular flu will go away after a couple days.


You can prevent the flu and colds by avoiding touching objects or people that could be infected.

This means washing your hands regularly, and never putting your hands in your mouth. Always cover your mouth while coughing, and don’t be around someone who has a cold or the flu if you can help it.

Interested in Learning More?

The cold vs. flu comparison is important for everyone to understand when treating themselves or their children.

Although the symptoms may be manageable with at-home treatment, sometimes they can progress out of your control. Seeing a doctor is the next best step.

To speak with a doctor in Baton Rouge, find out how on our Contact Page.