Cold or Flu?

Can you tell the difference between a bout of flu and the common cold?

Though they can share many symptoms—like sore throat and coughing—the cold and flu are ailments caused by different viruses. In order to treat them correctly, and to avoid complications, one must learn how to tell the two apart first. Generally, the flu can be more serious than a cold; according to NHS Choices, thousands of people die every year from complications after catching the flu. Individuals over 65 and people with chronic conditions, kidney disease, lowered immunity or history of stroke are all at higher risk of complications arising from the cold or flu—everyone in these at-risk groups is eligible for a free flu vaccination on the NHS.


Developing gradually over one or two days, the cold is much more contagious during its early stages. Initial symptoms will include a runny nose and a sore throat—these may get worse over time. Patients should start feeling better after a few days, though more severe cases can see colds lasting for around two weeks.


Flu, on the other hand, develops much faster than a cold. This is because you may be infected but not show any symptoms for as many as three days—at this stage, symptoms can hit suddenly and severely. Common symptoms include chills and fever. Recovery time is usually around a week, though feelings of weakness and lethargy may last for much longer than that. As the flu is caused by a virus—and not bacteria—antibiotics won’t treat it. 

Stop them from spreading

Both cold and flu can be spread through infected bodily fluids. You may also catch these viruses if you touch an infected surface and then touch your eyes and nose. Protect yourself—and others—against these ailments by always coughing into a tissue, throwing used tissues away, washing your hands often with soap and having a flu jab every year.

Contact your doctor if you have symptoms of cold or flu and also suffer from a chronic condition such as asthma, diabetes or heart disease.

See Also: Flighting Flu and Keeping Fit 

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