The difference between cold and flu symptoms
In general, a cold is a virus that settles in your sinuses, and flu is a virus that affects your lungs, which is why it can be more serious.
Colds can develop rather slowly, perhaps taking two to three days of mild symptoms before you feel really lousy. Flu symptoms hit hard and fast; you may think to yourself,“Where is the truck that just hit me and left me lying here for dead?”
Common cold symptoms include:
- mild sore throat
- low-grade fever (less than 100ºF) or no fever
- mild headache
- red, watery eyes
- sneezing, runny nose, congestion
- mild cough (some cold viruses cause inflammation in the airway—bronchitis)
Flu symptoms include:
- severe sore throat
- high fever (over 101ºF); chills and sweats
- sensitivity to light
- all-over body aches (remember the truck?)
- tightness in chest, cough
- difficulty breathing, pain with breathing—Pneumonia can be a serious complication, so do seek medical help if you have trouble breathing.
Still not sure? Get help
If you are concerned about whether your symptoms are a bad cold or flu, find a reliable resource for more information. As I recommend in a previous post, Self triage and save money, you can call one of the 24-hour nurse hotlines offered through your insurance company or your local health clinic/hospital and run your symptoms by a nurse trained in triage.
If you think you need to see a doctor but either don’t have insurance or feel too sick to leave your home, try telemedicine. Because it’s a cost-effective way to help more patients in less time, many insurance companies are teaming up with one of several telemedicine companies, or they have set up their own telemedicine service. Check with your insurance company.
I’ve also listed the most popular telemedicine sites on my Resources page.
Consider putting a copy of one of my favorite health resource books, Take Care of Yourself, 10th Edition: The Complete Illustrated Guide to Medical Self-Care, in your home health library. This book provides a diagnostic chart to help you figure out if your symptoms warrant a trip to the doctor’s office, or if you should simply treat yourself at home.
The doctors write “The common cold and the different kinds of flu account for more unnecessary visits to the doctor than any other illness.”
That’s true. So save money by knowing the difference between cold and flu, and check out my other posts on the most effective cold and flu medicines.