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Flu vs. Cold: How to Tell the Difference

You’ve woken up with a terrible headache, a stuffy nose, and you’re questioning if you were hit by a bus at some point in your sleep because your whole body aches.

It is that time of year again and we’re not talking about decking the halls with boughs of holly. We’re talking about the cold and flu. It can be hard to distinguish between the two because the symptoms are so similar.

To help you figure out what illness you’re dealing with so you can seek out the proper treatment, keep reading to see how the common cold and flu differ.

1. Cold Symptoms

Getting a cold is sort of a slow creep. It will start with you waking up with a sore throat. From there it will evolve into a runny nose and congestion. You may experience a small fever but this symptom is more common in children then it is adults.

These symptoms will persist for about a week. During the first few days, it is possible for you to give it to someone else but after that, you’ll be good to go back to work or school. If the cold goes on for longer than a week then your condition may have turned itself into some kind of bacterial infection.

2. How to Treat a Cold?

Due to the fact that a cold is a viral infection, you can’t go to the doctor and get prescription antibiotics for it. They’ll tell you to go home and get plenty of rest and fluids.

There are over-the-counter medicines you can buy to help you deal with the symptoms, however. Decongestants, NSAIDs, and antihistamines will all prove effective against a cold.

Make sure to get plenty of fluids. One of the worst mistakes you can make if you have a cold is to let yourself get dehydrated. Other than that, it’s all a matter of waiting it out.

3. Prevention Methods for a Cold

There is no vaccine for the common cold, unfortunately. There are things that you can do to prevent yourself from falling victim to it though.


You can’t catch a cold if you avoid it. Stay away from anyone who is showing symptoms and don’t share any personal items with them.

Also, to stop the cold from spreading around your school or workplace, if you do manage to get sick, stay home until you’re no longer contagious.

Good Hygiene

It’s easy for a cold to spread. You can catch it from just touching the same doorknob an infected co-worker touched. To this end, always carry hand sanitizer with you.

Don’t put your hands up to your mouth or nose until you’ve used it and make sure you always wash your hands with warm water and soap when needed.

4. Flu Symptoms

Whereas cold symptoms have more of a slow burn effect, the flu will hit you more like a fast-moving bus. Your whole body will ache, you’ll experience headaches, sore throat, congestion, a cough, and fever.

Flu symptoms will go away slowly as the week drags on. It’s not uncommon for you to still feel horrible after the week is up.

It’s not unheard of for the flu to devolve into pneumonia. This is especially true for children and the elderly. If you start to feel shortness of breath, go speak to your doctor as soon as you can.

5. Treating the Flu

Like with a cold, one of the biggest mistakes you can make if you have the flu is to let yourself get dehydrated. Make sure you rest and get plenty of liquids. Over-the-counter decongestants and pain medications will help alleviate the symptoms a little.

The difference between the flu and cold is that your doctor can prescribe antiviral drugs for it. This will stop it from developing into pneumonia.

The problem is that you’ll have to start these drugs around 48 hours after you get sick. This being said, it’s important that you make an appointment as soon as you can.

6. When Should See Your Doctor?

Despite their differences, there is one thing the flu and cold have in common. The symptoms can worsen and become a big deal. If you experience any of the following symptoms you should go see a doctor ASAP.

Persistent Cough

If your cough sticks around for more than a few weeks your situation may have spiraled into bronchitis. You’ll need to get a prescription for antibiotics in order to treat that.

Persistent Fever

You may experience a fever with the flu but it’s not normal for it to stay with you for more than a few days. If your fever won’t go away then you may have a different bacterial problem that only a specific medication can treat.

Painful Swallowing

You’ll experience a sore throat and painful swallowing with both a cold and the flu. It will be annoying but you will never experience severe pain with it.

If the pain in your throat is severe then this is a sign that you have strep throat. You’ll need a doctor’s attention in order to get rid of it.

Is it the Flu or Only a Cold When Your Whole Body Aches?

There is a fine line between having the flu and cold. The cold is an inconvenience that will stick around for a few days. The flu will last for a week or so and your whole body aches.

Depending on which ailment you have the treatment options will be a little different. That’s why it’s so important to know the difference. Use this guide so you can start treating your symptoms and get back to your normal life.

Did you know you can get your flu prescription cheaper online? Browse through our medicines to see if we have what you need in stock.