Is it a cold or the flu?

Flu season
October 8, 2019

The Difference Between the Flu and a Cold – Know the Symptoms

Both colds and influenza (flu) are viral respiratory infections, but they are caused by different viruses. It can be confusing since they both have some similar characteristics, such as a runny and/or stuffy nose, sneezing, general malaise, and fatigue.  However, if you’ve ever had the flu, you know that the symptoms feel much more severe than a cold and in fact, colds are milder than the flu.  How can you tell the difference?

The flu comes on very suddenly while a cold can take a few days to take hold.  When you have the flu, it is often accompanied by body aches and/or chills, fever, headache, and fatigue.  It can have similar qualities that colds do, such as a runny or stuffy nose and sneezing, but not always.  The flu can pose serious health problems, such as pneumonia, whereas a cold can just make you feel miserable.

This helpful chart from the CDC shows flu and cold symptoms side by side:

Is it cold or flu?

(image courtesy of

The flu can be treated with antivirals such as Tamiflu®, Relenza®, and Xofluza®.  Antiviral medications are not prescribed for colds. However, you can find some over-the-counter medications to help relieve the symptoms of both colds and the flu.

If you have questions or are concerned that you might have the flu, call to make an appointment.  The best way to diagnose the flu is with a flu test.

It is not too late to get your flu shot!  Please call to make an appointment with our Patient Access representatives at the front desk. 617-323-4440.

Photography: Kelly Sikkema