Cold vs. the Flu



Flu season is here again and in full swing. Your preparation is key to staying healthy. Unfortunately, despite your best efforts and immunizations, the flue can still strike. Early detection and appropriate responses are essential to treating influenza. However, there's just one problem; How do you know you actually have influenza?


Many infections present themselves like the flu especially early on, but there are other factors that need to be accounted. The only sure thing that confirms the flue is a flue test which is usually readily available at your doctor's office. Then there are other similar conditions that can occur during the summer. This is an unusual time for the flu which usually starts mid-fall and goes through April, with a peak in December to late January. Time of year and corresponding weather conditions are just a few ways to distinguish the flu versus other common colds.


The acronym "F.A.C.T.S." helps us distinguish the common cold versus the Flu:

  • “F”ever which can be very high with the flu, but almost non-existent with a cold. You can have other significantly devastating diseases (Pneumonia) when you have a fever, but it does help distinguish between a cold and the flu.

  • “A”ches or pains and discomfort is likely related to the flu and not just a cold. Another key here, is that these aches and pains develop right away, not after days of having an illness but almost immediately at onset with the flu. Another combination of symptoms such as high fever and headaches at the onset are more likely to be the flu.

  • Bone shaking “C”hills are also another symptom of the flu, which usually does not occur with a common cold. Chills along with high fever are signs that you need to see a doctor before your condition worsens. This is according to the US Department of Health and Human Services.

  • Extreme “T”iredness and sudden onset of fatigue is more likely associated with the flu than a cold. With a cold, after a few rough nights without sleeping, you may become fatigued and tired. Influenza hits you right up front with tiredness and fatigue. Sneezing lends itself more towards a cold as does a stuffy runny nose. Where as a cough, particularly a dry one, is more likely generated with the flu. Similar to other symptoms that occur with both colds and flu timing and intensity are important in distinguishing between the two conditions. Of note, even if you had the worst cold in the world, it probably wouldn't feel as bad as having the flu.

Again, if your symptoms appear abruptly with extreme intensity, then you likely have the flu. The flu can be a serious and deadly condition. The common cold on the other hand is best described as uncomfortable and annoying. Where as the flu is incapacitating and intense, colds are treated with decongestants and ibuprofen. If these over the counter remedies help you feel better, you have the cold. If you have the flu, it is very unlikely that these drugs will help. The flue requires much more intense drugs.

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