How to Tell If You Have the Cold or the Flu

Though some people get things mixed up when it comes to differentiating between the influenza, which is called the flu for short, and the common cold. While many others think they are the same, they are however both types of upper respiratory infections, caused by viruses, and both can actually take a week or more to clear out of your system. Both infections are highly communicable, so can easily be contracted. Also, they have similar symptoms which include, coughing, sore throat, nasal congestion, headache and fever.

Though some people are of the idea that the cold and flu are the same and treated same way, but in reality, they are not the same and the way to treat them may vary too. Below are some things you need to know when you are not sure of which ailment you are down with.


The common cold is an upper respiratory infection triggered by a virus. Although, a cold can be caught at any time of the year, it is however, more rampant during winter months. It is more during this season because most viruses that cause cold thrive in low humidity.

Colds can be spread, when someone who is infected with the virus coughs or sneezes, releasing virus-contained driblet into the air, while those present inhale the contaminated air. Another way it can be caught is, if you touch a surface, a doorknob or table, that has been earlier touched by an infected person and then touch your eyes, nose or mouth with that same hand.

The time you are most contagious is in the first two to four days after you have caught the cold virus.



The flu as it is shortly and commonly called or influenza for full, is also an upper respiratory infection. But, in contrast to the cold which can spread at any time of the year, the influenza is seasonal. The influenza season kicks off from fall to spring and reaches its peak during winter.

Just like the way a cold can be caught, the flu can be caught same way during its season. That is, by being inhaling contaminated air sneezed out by an infected person. If you catch the flu, the symptoms will be obvious after about 5-7 days, but you are contagious 1 day before you get sick till after the symptoms are obvious.

There might be a couple of similarities between the flu symptoms and that of the cold. Know how to spot the difference between them below.

If you are down with a cold, the possible symptoms include:

  • Sneezing
  • Tiredness
  • Headaches
  • Stuffy nose
  • cough
  • Sore throat

While the flu symptoms include:

  • Runny and stuffy nose
  • Nausea and vomiting, this is common in children
  • sore throat
  • Serious fatigue that may last for a week or two
  • severe muscle or body aches
  • Dry cough
  • Headaches, muscle or body aches
  • Moderate or high fever, though not common.

Colds, often times are not as serious as the flu, and they come on slowly over a couple of days. Colds will normally get better within 7-10 days, with symptoms persisting for about 2 weeks while the flu symptoms come on faster and can be severe, lasting 1-2 weeks.

The symptoms you show should be used as a guide to knowing which ailment you have. If it is the flu, ensure to see your doctor within the first 48 hours of showing symptoms.