How to Know the Difference Between a Cold and the Flu


The winter season means holiday parties (well, maybe not this year), hot chocolate, Christmas carols, big meals, and ugly sweaters, but it also, unfortunately, means flu season.

While it’s important to get a flu shot and try to stay away from people who are not feeling well — especially during the time of COVID-19 — it can be hard to stay 100% healthy when the temperature drops.

woman sneezing

Not to mention, it’s equally difficult to differentiate the symptoms of the common cold and of the flu. 

Though we encourage everyone to get tested for the flu and for COVID-19 if you’re not feeling great this winter, here are a few ways you may be able to tell the difference between cold and the flu.

Why is it Hard to Distinguish Between the Two?

People often aren’t sure whether they have a cold or the flu because they are both upper respiratory illnesses.

However, the cold tends to be much milder than the flu. 

Cold Symptoms

If you have any of these symptoms, you more than likely have a cold: runny or stuffy nose, sore throat, sneezing, cough, headache, body aches, and mild tiredness.

Flu Symptoms

On the other hand, if you have any of these symptoms, you may have the flu: dry, hacking cough, fever, sore throat, chills, severe muscle aches, headache, stuffy nose, and severe fatigue.

Not to mention the flu can also cause vomiting and severe nausea, especially in children. Nausea, however, isn’t a symptom of a cold.

Different Timelines

While colds usually come on very slowly over a few days, flu symptoms can come on very quickly.

Colds also usually last about seven to 10 days, but flu symptoms can last about one to two weeks.

COVID-19 Makes Things Complicated

Now that we have COVID-19 to also worry about, it’s going to be a very tough winter for a lot of people. 

While many symptoms of COVID-19 are similar to that of a common cold or of the flu, there are some differences. 

In fact, one of the main symptoms of COVID-19 is the loss of taste or smell, so if you experience either of those symptoms there’s a chance you could have COVID-19.

The bottom line? If you are not feeling well, do your best to get tested for both the flu and for COVID-19. 

Make sure to stay away from people if you aren’t feeling well, wear your mask, and wash your hands!