Cold vs Flu: What’s the Difference?

cold vs flu

Sneezing, stuffy nose, and sore throat? Is it a cold or the flu? It can be hard to tell the difference since both share similar symptoms.

But with 12,000 to 79,000 flu-related deaths every year, recognizing cold vs. flu symptoms can be the difference between life and death.

Want to know how to tell the difference between cold vs flu? Keep reading for all the signs and symptoms you should be looking for.

Cold vs Flu

Both a cold and the flu are respiratory sicknesses caused by different viruses. Yet each is associated with similar symptoms including:

  • Fever
  • Runny or stuffy nose
  • Aches
  • Fatigue
  • Chills
  • Sneezing
  • Sore throat
  • Coughing
  • Headache

Here are some more facts to know about colds and the flu.


About 50% of colds are caused by a specific strain of virus called rhinoviruses. Children, the elderly, smokers, and people with poor immune systems are at the greatest risk for developing a cold.

In general, the symptoms of a cold will be much milder than those seen with the flu. You probably won’t be confined to your bed and will have the energy to get around the house or even go to work. In fact, 25% of people don’t even experience cold symptoms.

If left untreated, though, the common cold may lead to bronchitis or even pneumonia.

The Flu

Three different viruses are responsible for the flu:

  1. Type A
  2. Type B
  3. Type C

All three types are highly contagious. They spread via bodily fluids usually when an infected person sneezes, coughs, or wipes their nose and the fluids come in contact with an uninfected person.

Symptoms can be mild but more severe cases can be debilitating. The majority of infected people will recover. But, if you don’t see a doctor for treatment, the flu can be deadly.

The Difference between Cold and Flu Symptoms

If you’re experiencing symptoms of the cold or flu, your local urgent care clinic has special tests to tell the difference between the two. But there are also a few signs you can look out for to determine whether you have a cold or the flu.

The first thing to look for is how abrupt your symptoms came on. The symptoms of a cold generally come on slowly and gradually get worse. Meanwhile, flu symptoms strike all at once and are often more severe during flu onset.

Sneezing, stuffy nose, and sore throat are commonly seen with a cold but less commonly in people with the flu. Severe chest discomfort and cough, chills, and aches are more likely signs of the flu than a cold.

Finally, headache and fever are very rarely seen in individuals with a cold. But these two symptoms are almost guaranteed when you develop the flu.

What to Do if You Have the Flu

Like the viruses that cause them, cold vs flu treatments are different. You can treat the common cold at home with over-the-counter cold medicine. Drink plenty of fluids and rest as much as you can for a quick recovery.

There is a flu vaccine available to prevent contraction. But if you skipped out this year or developed the flue anyway, you should head to your local urgent care. Severe symptoms are treated with an anti-viral medication alongside rest and water.

Are you experiencing the symptoms of the flu in Oxford, Mississippi? Call Oxford Urgent Care to schedule an appointment or just walk on into our centrally located clinic on University Ave.