8 differences between a cold and the flu

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8 differences between a cold and the flu

Runny nose? Coughing? Sneezing?

All too often people describe their common cold as “a touch of the flu”.  In reality, it rarely is. While a cold may drag you down a bit, the flu could well leave you struggling to get out of bed.

While both are caused by viruses, similarities end there. Cold symptoms come on more gradually and tend not to include the aches or fever you see with the flu. Let’s take a closer look:

Common cold Flu
Symptoms of a cold include(1):
  • - a runny nose that becomes a thicker, green mucus
  • - a blocked nose
  • - a sore throat
  • - sneezing
  • - coughing
  • - mild chest discomfort(3)
Symptoms of flu include(2):
  • - a sudden high fever (38 – 40 °C)
  • - muscle aches and pains
  • - sweating
  • - feeling exhausted and needing to lie down
  • - dry, chesty cough
  • - chest discomfort that may become severe(4)
With a severe cold you may also suffer with a mild fever, earache, tiredness and headache(5). With the flu you may also have a runny nose, sore throat and be prone to sneezing(6).
Cold symptoms generally appear between 1 and 3 days after you’re infected(7) and develop over a couple of days(8). Symptoms of the flu generally appear between 1 and 3 days after you’re infected(9) and usually come on abruptly(10).
Your symptoms should get better after a few days, though some colds can last for up to 2 weeks(11). Your fever may last for 3 or 4 days(12). And though most people recover within a week(13), you may feel weak and tired for 2 or 3 weeks(14).
A cold is most contagious during the early stages, when you have a runny nose and sore throat(15). The flu is most contagious during the 24 hours before symptoms appear(16) and may be contagious for up to a week after symptoms appear(17).
There are around 200 viruses that cause colds(18). There are just three virus types that cause flu – but each has many strains.(19). The flu vaccine changes every year to protect against the most common ones(20).
Complications from colds are relatively minor, but may include sinus congestion or earache(21). The flu can lead to serious complications ranging from sinus infections to life-threatening bronchitis or pneumonia(22).
There are no medications to help you defeat the common cold itself, only to relieve some symptoms(23). There are three antiviral medications available to treat the flu: oseltamivir, zanamivir, and peramivir. Antibiotics may be needed to treat any secondary bacterial infection(24).

How has flu affected you in the last few years? Share your stories.

(1), (2), (5), (6), (8), (9), (11), (13), (15), (18), (19), (20) http://www.nhs.uk/Livewell/coldsandflu/Pages/Isitacoldorflu.aspx
(10), (24) http://www.webmd.com/cold-and-flu/flu-guide/what-is-flu#2
(3), (4), (12), (14), (21), (22), (23) http://www.webmd.com/cold-and-flu/flu-guide/is-it-cold-flu
(7) http://www.mayoclinic.org/diseases-conditions/common-cold/symptoms-causes/dxc-20199808
(16), (17) http://dhss.delaware.gov/dhss/dph/files/influenzafaq.txt


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