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Is it the Flu or a Common Cold?

Updated on January 28, 2011

Runny Nose, Fever, and Chills Oh My

It's that time of the year again and the only reason I know is cause the flu just ripped it's way through my house. If you have school age children you probably know just what I mean.

One of my major questions whenever one of us catches a cold is how do you tell the difference between the flu and the common cold. Well, hopefully I can help save you some time and energy by imparting what I learned- keep in mind I am just a mom not an MD.

Influenza Virus


Symptoms of the Flu

Here is a list of common flu symptoms according to the CDC. It is important to note that symptoms will vary from person to person so it is always a good idea to follow up with the doctor if you are feeling ill.

  • Fever and/or Chills
  • Runny Nose
  • Muscle and Body Aches
  • Headache
  • Fatigue
  • Vomiting and Diarrhea; more common in children


The best ways to tell it is the flu rather than just a cold is if there is a high fever and also with the flu you are going to be really wiped out.

Another trick is that colds tend to have a sore throat that will go away after a day or two when common cold symptoms will begin to set in such as nasal symptoms and cough.

Symptoms of a Cold

  • Usually begins with a Sore Throat
  • Runny and then Stuffy Nose
  • Cough - Can be Mild or Persistent depending on Lung Health
  • Typically is worst a couple days in and better 3-5 later but may have lingering cough or nasal symptoms
  • May have Mild Fever

See the Doctor Always If:

  • Fever of 101F or Higher with Sore Throat
  • Symptoms of Earache
  • Your Pregnant
  • With a Newborn
  • Cold Symptoms Worsen after a Few Days
  • Sore Throat Last Longer than 3 days
  • You Feel Really Tired and Achy

Rhinovirus Can Cause Common Cold


Antibiotics for the Flu or Cold?

These days there are a lot of nasty little buggers floating around due to antibiotic resistance. It is hard to imagine and accept that modern medicine hasn't found more medicines to get rid of the common cold but medicines like antibiotics are only good for treating bacterial infections and the flu and cold come from viruses.

Viruses change often which makes it harder to pin down a treatment and common cold symptoms are considered to be mild enough that treatment isn't necessary. Recent advances in antivirals medications have made some medicines available to treat the flu- such as Tamiflu and Relenza but they are only effective if taken right away and only work to lessen the severity and duration of the flu.

Determining whether or not you need antibiotics can be tricky without lab testing but good indicators are longer duration sore throat, sore throat with high fever as in Strep Throat, symptoms that starting getting worse in the middle or end of cold, cold that last several weeks or more which may indicate the a bacterial infection has settle in during the cold. The best way to figure it out is by talking with your MD but remember that overuse and misuse of antibiotics can contribute to antibiotic resistance illness later on.

Ease the Symptoms and Spread of Virus

Tips to Help Prevent and Ease Symptoms of Viruses:

  • Use a humidifier- cold viruses thrive in dry warm air(Try steaming the bathroom for some relief if you don't have one)
  • Wash your Hands and have antibacterial antiseptic handy
  • Sneeze and cough into your sleeve or a tissue instead of your hands
  • Make sure your getting enough vitamin D
  • Chicken Soup :)
  • Eat a balanced diet
  • Quit smoking
  • Avoid the PDA or hand shaking with people who are ill
  • Be careful not to over exercise
  • Try to reduce stress (try some simple deep breathing exercises) and get rest
  • Try not to binge drink, people who binge drink lower their immunity
  • Use OTC medicines to treat symptoms but be careful to follow directions for dosing

Flu Prevention

Did You Get Your Flu Vaccine This Year?

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    • megs11237 profile image

      megs11237 7 years ago from United States

      Thanks, we need them to be healthy as well so we can stay healthy. :)

    • the clean life profile image

      Mark Bruno 7 years ago from New Jersey Shore

      Hey Megs. Great job here on advise and information of colds/flu. Anyone that has children should read, because as we all know our children depend on us to help them and keep them healthy.

      Thanks for sharing

    • megs11237 profile image

      megs11237 7 years ago from United States