Recognizing the Difference Between Cold and Flu Symptoms

Cold and flu season has arrived, so now more than ever, it is important to refresh yourself on the differences between cold symptoms and flu symptoms, as well as when you should go to the ER.

The common cold and the flu have many symptoms in common, but are very different illnesses. While both affect the respiratory system, they are caused by totally different viruses.


98.6 Fahrenheit is a normal body temperature. When a body temperature rises to 99F and higher, this is classified as a fever. Fever is a much more common symptom of the flu than it is of the common cold, especially in adults.

Body Aches

People often associate body aches with having the flu, but in reality, people with colds can experience body aches as well. If your body aches feel worse than normal, you may have the flu and not a cold. Typically, people who have the flu experience body aches to a greater degree.


Many illnesses can cause fatigue because your immune system is being attacked. You can feel exhausted whether you have the cold or whether you have the flue, but as a general rule, exhaustion is much worse and much more common in people with the flu.


People with the cold as well as the flu can develop a persistent, dry cough. Usually, coughing is more severe for people who have the flu.

Runny or Stuffy Nose

If your symptoms include a runny nose or congestion, it is more likely that you have the cold than the flu. However, we recommend seeing your doctor for a diagnosis to be certain.

Developing Other Illnesses

It is uncommon for people with colds to develop more serious illnesses such as pneumonia that require hospitalization. If you developed pneumonia or a bacterial infection, there is a good chance your illness started with the flu.

When should I go to the doctor?

If you or a loved one has the cold or the flu, when should you (if at all) visit your doctor? You should consider seeing your doctor if –

  • Your fever that lasts longer than three days
  • You have difficulty swallowing because your throat is so sore
  • Coughing lasts longer than two or three weeks
  • You are severely congested or experience prolonged headaches

You may need more immediate attention than scheduling an appointment with your doctor if –

  • You are experiencing sharp pains in your chest
  • You have had a severe and/or debilitating headache
  • You are dizzy and/or can’t think straight
  • You have thrown up or are throwing up persistently
  • You have shortness of breath

If you are experiencing the symptoms of a cold, flu, or something more serious, please contact us .