The Flu vs a Cold: What's the Difference?


Cold and flu season, cold and flu medicine, cold and flu symptoms — all too often, we talk about the common cold and influenza virus like they’re one in the same. But in reality, that’s anything but true.

The Main Differences Between a Cold and The Flu

Both a cold and the flu are caused by viruses, however, colds are most often caused by the rhinovirus, whereas the flu is caused by the influenza virus.

Though a cold and the flu share similar symptoms, the flu is usually more severe and will cause people to feel extremely fatigued, congested, and nauseous. The flu also tends to be accompanied by a fever of 100 degrees F or higher for several days.

Why is the flu so much more serious?

The flu weakens a person’s body and can exacerbate existing health problems, like asthma and diabetes. It can also affect a person’s immune system, making them more susceptible to additional infections and diseases. Flu symptoms can range from mild to severe — while some people can recover with rest and fluids, others may need emergency medical attention.

Particularly among babies and toddlers, the elderly, people with existing health problems, and pregnant women, the flu can be dangerous and even life-threatening.

Protecting yourself and your loved ones.

Although there’s no vaccine for the common cold, there is one for the flu. According to the Centers for Disease Control (CDC) the best way to protect yourself from the flu is by getting an annual flu shot and washing your hands several times a day.

When to see a doctor.

If, despite your best efforts, you do come down with the flu this season, take several days to rest and drink plenty of fluids. If after a few days you’re still experiencing body aches, fever, and/or diarrhea, contact your doctor immediately. If your child under the age of five comes down with the flu, bring them to the doctor right away.

If you’re experiencing an emergency, dial 9-1-1 immediately and request an ambulance. For more information, please call the main hospital line at 626-898-8000.

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