Is It a Cold or the Flu?


child with flu or cold symptoms

A pounding head, stuffy nose and scratchy throat can be the unwelcome signs of a cold … or is it the seasonal flu? It can be difficult to know for sure which viral infection you are suffering from, but an instant flu test can help identify if your viral infection is caused by an influenza virus. Here are some simple guidelines from RediClinic – the best local flu vaccine clinic – to help distinguish between cold and flu symptoms.

Symptoms of the Common Cold

The common cold may be caused by the rhinovirus, coronavirus, RSV, parainfluenza and other viruses. Symptoms of a cold tend to appear gradually and primarily involve the upper respiratory system (the head, nose and throat). Watery eyes, stuffy nose, sore throat, sneezing, cough and headache characterize a cold. You may experience mild fatigue or a slight fever, but these symptoms will be less severe compared to the flu. Although the effects tend to last a few days, you generally can function with a cold.

Symptoms of the Flu

Influenza (flu) is a viral infection that attacks the respiratory system (nose, throat and lungs). Flu symptoms often appear suddenly, are more severe and last longer than those of a cold. You will likely have a high fever and feel exhausted for several days. Head and body aches, chills and chest tightness are common. You may also suffer from a cough, sore throat and nasal congestion, though upper respiratory symptoms are less common with the flu. Children may experience vomiting and diarrhea.

Flu viruses are constantly changing, which means an annual flu shot is the best way to keep from getting sick with flu.

How Colds & Flu Are Treated

While you can catch a cold at any time of the year, the flu is generally seasonal and peaks during the winter months. Both infections spread the same way: by coming into contact with virus-filled droplets spread by an infected person. Taking antibiotics will not help you recover from a viral illness such as a cold or the flu. However, many over-the-counter medications are available to treat symptoms and help you feel better.

In addition, prescription antiviral medication is available to help the body fight off the flu faster and decrease symptoms. For maximum effectiveness, flu antivirals should be given within 48 hours of the onset of flu symptoms.

Individuals who are suffering from flu with earache will require a different treatment approach. Ear infections are caused by bacteria, and patients will need to take an antibiotic to feel better.

We’re Redi to Treat Cold & Flu Symptoms

If you are experiencing symptoms of a cold or flu, visit your nearest RediClinic location which is open seven days a week. Our board-certified clinicians can perform tests to diagnose your illness, prescribe effective treatment options to ease symptoms and put you on the road to recovery. For patients 18 months of age and older, we can prescribe Tamiflu® or another flu antiviral to lessen symptoms. Vaccinations are also available for those who are well and have not yet received a flu shot.

Make an online appointment to be seen at RediClinic same-day or next-day!