July 18, 2012

Cold vs. Flu: What’s the Difference?

For many, the cold and flu are a yearly, irritating occurrence. Some choose to wait it out and hope the symptoms are minimal; others hurry to the doctor for medications and reassurance that it’ll eventually subside. Although they tend to be used interchangeably because the symptoms can be very similar, the cold and flu are actually separate illnesses. The paragraphs below will detail the symptoms and possible severity of each.

  • Cold: The symptoms of a cold can include a runny nose, sore throat, headache and a cough. Colds are not usually partnered with a fever, although it is common for children’s’ temperatures to spike during a cold. Overall, cold symptoms are more moderate and manageable than flu symptoms. Over-the-counter medicine can lessen a stuffy nose and a nighttime cough. After about three days of a cold, the person is no longer contagious. Colds usually do not last longer than a week.
  • Flu: With the flu, a fever is almost always present. Other symptoms include an aching body, fatigue, headache, cough, and nausea. Fevers appear quickly and start off strong but tend not to linger as long as a cold. Although there are no tests available for determining a cold, there are flu tests. For a serious flu, doctors can prescribe anti-viral medicine.

Both the cold and the flu are respiratory illnesses. They can knock a healthy person of his feet without warning, but they can do far more damage to those who are already ill or have weak immune systems. A baby or elderly person with the flu should be treated differently than an average adult for this reason. If either a cold or flu lasts longer than a week, it may be something worse.