Do I Have a Cold or the Flu?

Do I Have a Cold or the Flu?

With the cold weather coming, cold and flu season is on the way. While the two illnesses present many of the same symptoms, they are significantly different in nature, which means that they cannot be treated the same. Let’s take a closer look at the differences between the common cold and the flu and the most effective ways to treat and prevent them.

What is the Common Cold?

The common cold is an upper respiratory infection caused by a virus. Reports suggest that over 200 different viruses can potentially cause the common cold, but most are caused by forms of rhinovirus. The average adult will contract two to three colds per year, and the total U.S. population generally experiences 1 billion colds per year. Despite its prevalence, however, the cold is relatively harmless.

What is the Flu?

Similar to the cold, the flu is caused by a viral infection. With the flu, this infection is caused by the influenza virus that affects your entire respiratory system, including your nose, throat, and lungs. Unlike the cold, the flu can actually be deadly and may result in health complications.

Cold and Flu Symptoms

Despite both affecting the respiratory system, the cold and flu present some distinct and subtly different symptoms. The most common symptoms of a cold include:

  • Coughing
  • Sore throat
  • Stuffy or runny nose
  • General congestion
  • Mild headache

Common symptoms for the flu include:

  • A dry, persistent cough
  • A sore throat
  • Nasal congestion
  • Headaches
  • Weakness and fatigue
  • Chills and sweating
  • Fevers reaching over 100.4 degrees Fahrenheit
  • Muscle aches

The biggest difference between cold and flu symptoms is the fever. The common cold almost never presents with a fever. The flu is also much more tiring. While the cold should present some mild fatigue, the flu will result in significant fatigue and full-body muscle aches for the longevity of the illness.

You can also discern based on the onset of symptoms. The cold’s symptoms are usually more gradual, starting with a runny nose and slight sore throat that slowly ramp up over the course of a few days. Symptoms of the flu come on much quicker and more severely. You can feel fine one day and immediately feel awful the next.

The duration of illness can vary, but colds usually last one week to 10 days, while the flu can last up to two weeks.

When to See Your Doctor

You generally do not need to see your doctor for either a cold or the flu, unless you have a compromised health situation or symptoms worsen significantly. If you are not sure which of the two you have, you can receive a more definitive diagnosis by visiting your doctor. Some groups are more at risk of complications from either the cold or the flu, including:

  • Children under the age of five (particularly infants younger than 12 months)
  • Adults over the age of 65
  • Pregnant women
  • People with compromised immune systems or chronic illnesses

Due to the rarity of fevers with colds, you should also consult your primary care doctor if your cold is accompanied by a fever over 101.3 F or if you have a fever that lasts five or more days.

Treatment Options for the Cold and Flu

There is currently no known cure for the cold or flu. Antibiotics, which only work on bacterial infections will have no effect. The main treatment for the cold and flu is TIME as your immune system builds up enough antibodies to eliminate the virus. However, there are a variety of home remedies and over-the-counter products that may help to manage symptoms and maintain your personal comfort while your immune system does its job.

Over-the-counter medication

Over-the-counter pain relievers, decongestants, and cough syrups can help to maintain your comfort and prevent excessive coughing.


Get plenty of bedrest and good quality sleep (as much as possible). Exercising or being too active will tire you out and keep your immune system from fighting off the infection with full force. Getting bedrest also ensures that you are not going out and potentially spreading the virus to others.

Drink fluids

You don’t want to deal with dehydration on top of your existing viral infection. Drinking water, juice, soup, broth, herbal tea, or lemon water can help to soothe your throat while keeping you hydrated. Avoid alcohol, caffeine, and sugary soft drinks, which can dehydrate you and possibly irritate your throat. Drink fluids with added electrolytes to refuel. Also, avoid milk-based beverages which may contribute to phlegm production.

Eat food

While many people go by the old adage “feed a cold, starve a fever,” in reality you should feed yourself whether you have a cold or a flu. Food provides you and your immune system with the nutrition and calories necessary to fuel your recovery. Taking certain nutritional supplements containing zinc or vitamin C may also help.

Preventing the Cold and Flu

The best way to prevent the cold is to practice good hygiene. Most people contract the cold by coming into contact with a contaminated surface and then touching their eyes, nose, or mouth. Wash your hands with soap and warm water, particularly before meals, and avoid touching your face. Don’t share any utensils or personal items with someone that you know is sick.

These can also apply to the flu, but the best way to prevent the flu is to get your annual flu shot. While the flu is only caused by influenza, this virus is constantly evolving year to year, which is why yearly vaccinations are recommended. The traditional trivalent flu vaccine is designed to protect against an influenza A (H1N1) virus, an influence A (H3N2) virus, and an influenza B virus. The quadrivalent vaccine includes an additional B strain.

The flu vaccine’s effectiveness varies from year to year, yet is highly recommended for “at risk” populations. It may in rare instances cause some mild side effects, but these are extremely minor compared to contracting the actual flu. Getting a flu shot not only increases your odds of not getting the flu, but also helps to protect those who are unable to get a flu shot and those who may be highly susceptible to flu complications.

If you have the cold or flu, you can do your part by avoiding others until you are better. If you must venture outside, wash your hands frequently. Wear a face mask or cough and sneeze into the inside of your arm instead of into your hands.

With cold and flu season around the corner, knowing the difference between the two illness can be a huge benefit to the health of you and your community. Visit Sovereign Laboratories for supplements that can help your immune system, like Vital C-LD® and any of the oral health sprays.