The symptoms of Influenza Virus and the common cold can be very similar. It may sometimes be hard to tell the difference between them. These illnesses are both caused by respiratory viruses, but a cold is generally milder than the flu with less serious health implications. Being sick feels terrible and nasty no matter what you have come down with, but figuring out which illness you have is crucial to your treatment and recovery. That’s why distinguishing between flu symptoms vs cold symptoms could help you feel much better faster.
What is the Flu?
Influenza is a viral infection that attacks your respiratory system that usually resolves itself, but can create serious complications in some people that may be deadly. People with a high risk of developing serious complications with the virus can include:
- Young children
- The elderly
- Pregnant women
- People with suppressed immune systems
- Anybody with a chronic illness
- People who are overweight
The best defense against the flu is always a vaccination because it will prevent the transmission entirely. (1)
Symptoms of the Flu
At first, the flu may seem like a cold with sneezing and a sore throat, but colds usually come on slowly while the flu hits you quickly. You will likely feel much worse with the flu.
Some common symptoms of the flu include:
- Fever over 100 F
- Sore throat
- Chills and sweats
- Annoying cough
Sudden Fatigue is an Early Warning Sign
Reduced sunlight and shorter days in the Winter can make you feel tired every day, but there’s a clear difference between being tired and experiencing fatigue. Sudden weakness is one of the earliest signs of the flu and it will usually appear before anything else.
The serious fatigue may disrupt the productivity of your day, so it’s important to give your body adequate rest. If you have the flu, try to take the day off to sleep and drink liquids because this will strengthen your immune system for the fight to come.(2)
Symptoms of the Flu in Small Children
The influenza virus can cause all of the above symptoms, but they may experience different symptoms that could require the attention of a doctor. If your child cannot communicate how they feel, then these symptoms can also indicate that there is a problem:
- Not drinking enough water
- Crying with no tears
- Not waking up or interacting
- Not eating
- Fever with a rash
- Difficulty going to the bathroom
If your child does not have a fever, then it is likely that they have a cold instead.(3)
What is a Cold?
A common cold is a mild viral infection of the respiratory tract in the nose, throat, sinuses and airways. It occurs in millions of people each year and usually subsides after a week.
The usual symptoms of a cold include:
- Sore throat
- Congested or runny nose
- Aching muscles
- Hoarse voice
- Irritation of the eyes
- Loss of sense of taste and smell
- Pressure in the eyes and face
These symptoms are usually the worst during the first few days of contracting the illness, but then they begin to improve. Symptoms usually last no longer than a week, but a cough can remain for three weeks.
Flu Symptoms vs Cold Symptoms
These illnesses are very similar. They are both caused by a virus that affects the body’s breathing system, the nose, throat, windpipe, and lungs. They usually go away on their own and you should contact your doctor if symptoms change or get worse. With the flu, you can take antiviral medicines to speed up recovery.
There are a few differences between flu symptoms vs cold symptoms that can determine which one you have.
In regards to evaluating your symptoms to determine if you have a cold or a flu, there are a few slight differences. The most obvious differences are that you will experience fever, chills and sweats with the flu, but almost never with a cold.(3)
Typically, you can get a cold during any time of the year, but most likely in the Winter. The flu runs in seasons that usually run from November through March, but you can still get it a few months before or after.
Symptoms like these outside of the flu season are much more likely to be from a cold or an allergy. (4)
What If You Have the Flu?
If you have determined that you have the Influenza virus rather than a common cold, you should go to the doctor as soon as possible. These doctors will prescribe you necessary treatments in the form of anti-viral medication and should be taken within 48 hours from the onset of symptoms.
These medications will not be considered “natural” or “organic,” but the long-term health of your body is more of a priority. The Influenza virus can stress your body with inflammation that can affect you for months, years, or even inflict permanent damage on your well-being.
Make sure that you do not overreact by taking several over-the-counter drugs to treat your symptoms because this can be very dangerous. Combining drugs can synergize their effects, which may cause you to overdose.
For example, taking acetaminophen with ibuprofen will magnify the effects and inflammation that will damage your health.
Antibiotics are definitely to be avoided entirely. This is simply because they kill bacteria rather than viruses like the flu. Antibiotics will do nothing for your illness and they will cause side effects that are to be avoided at any cost. (5)
You can tell if you have a bacterial infection if you cough up green phlegm with spotted blood. A viral infection like the flu would otherwise cause you to cough up clear sputum.
What if You Have a Cold?
If you have determined that your symptoms are predominantly above the neck, with runny nose, cough, watering eyes, sore throat, congestion and sneezing, you likely have just a cold rather than the flu. You might have aching muscles or a fever, but it will be mild.
It should last a few days, so it is recommended that you get plenty of rest. Sleep as much as you can, avoid strenuous exercise and eat a healthy diet as best you can and avoid recreational drugs and alcohol. This will speed up your recovery so that you can be productive again as soon as possible.
It has been suggested that a multivitamin, as well as zinc can speed up your recovery from a cold. (5)
If your cold symptoms get very uncomfortable, try for a more natural approach by eating healthy and fresh foods, including soups and soft boiled vegetables. Antihistamines and drug treatments can dry up your sinuses, which is not ideal for fighting infection. If this happens, you can flush out and moisturize your sinuses using a neti pot or by other means.
If your cold has given you a fever, try to avoid a fever reducer. These can slow down your recovery from a cold because a fever is a natural immune response that aids in killing the virus. Since the cld is killed by heat, your body naturally produces more heat temporarily. If you suppress this action, it will take longer to recover.
Always try to remain hydrated with water as well as healthy electrolytes from fruits like bananas and coconut water. Antihistamines will dehydrate your sinuses as well, so they are best to be avoided because you want to hydrate your body during this time.
Distinguishing between flu symptoms vs cold symptoms isn’t hard, you just need to know how you feel.