Common colds and influenza are two of the most readily recognized illnesses in the Western world. These two types of viral infection affect literally billions of people every year combined. They are highly contagious, but the management for a cold and flu may greatly vary. To make matters worse, since both illnesses are caused by a group of possible viral strains, the symptoms may vary widely from case to case. However, there are a few characteristics of symptoms that may help differentiate a common cold from the flu.
Similarities. Most colds and cases of the flu are accompanied by nausea, sore throat, fatigue and a general feeling of being ill. A number of other symptoms may cross the cold and flu barrier, but it’s usually either not as often or not as severe as is seen in the other illness. For instance, someone with the flu may have a cough, but it’s not as common as with the cold and it’s generally not as pronounced. On the other hand, someone with a cold may or may not have nausea and vomiting, whereas it’s generally a fairly severe symptom with influenza.
Defining characteristics of a cold. Colds are usually characterized by congestion, pharyngitis (sore throat), sinus headaches, coughing and sneezing. There may be postnasal drip, fatigue and nausea. Though it is very unpleasant, people with a cold can usually still function more or less as they normally do, except with a few extra hygienic measures taken so as not to spread the virus.
Characteristics of the flu. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention states, “In general, the flu is worse than the common cold, and symptoms such as fever, body aches, extreme tiredness, and dry cough are more common and intense.” Flu is most often characterized by aching muscles, severe nausea, vomiting, diarrhea, high fever and other such symptoms. You will most likely be unable to perform your normal daily routines and will possibly need bed rest until you feel better. The chances of serious complications such as pneumonia and dehydration are much higher with a flu. Overall, if you have to ask whether it’s a cold or the flu, it’s most likely a cold.