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Is it a Cold or is it the Flu?



It’s that time of the year again. The weather begins to change, and now and again, you may start to feel not quite like yourself. You may be tired, achy, congested or nauseous, but can’t figure out if you have a cold, or worse, the flu. So how can you tell the difference?

Cold and flu symptoms can be very similar, as both are respiratory illnesses caused by different viruses. The common cold is a viral infection of your nose and throat (the upper respiratory tract). The flu is often more severe and caused by different, stronger viruses. Most people can recover from the cold in 7-10 days, while the flu may take 1-2 weeks—and if symptoms persist, you may need to see your doctor. Check out the lists below to learn the difference between the symptoms of a cold and the flu.

Symptoms of the flu include:

  • Chills or a fever.
  • Cough or sore throat.
  • Muscle or body aches.
  • Runny or stuffy nose.
  • Fatigue.

To avoid the flu, try to get a head start each season (October–May) and get your annual flu shot before flu season comes around. The vaccine helps your body produce antibodies that develop to strengthen your immune system, helping you fight the flu virus. If left untreated, it can cause some serious health complications—so if you get the flu, be sure to get the rest you need, and check with your doctor.

Symptoms of the common cold include:

  • Runny or stuffy nose.
  • Congestion.
  • Body aches or headache.
  • Sneezing.
  • Low-grade fever.

Symptoms of the common cold usually appear one to three days after exposure; however, signs and symptoms may be different from person to person. If left untreated, the common cold could lead to other complications such as ear and sinus infections, or even pneumonia and bronchitis.

The moral of the story is: if you aren’t feeling well, allow yourself time to rest and recuperate.


Other ways to stay healthy this season

You can avoid the cold or flu in a variety of ways. Check out the following tips to stay healthy this season:

Beware of common surfaces. Door knobs, remote controls, elevator buttons, phones, keyboards and shopping carts are some of the most commonly touched surfaces. Wash your hands after touching these, or use hand sanitizer if you can’t get to a sink right away. Avoid touching your eyes, nose and mouth unless you have just washed your hands. When washing up, it’s recommended to use hot soapy water, and lather and scrub your hands for at least 20 seconds.

Keep your distance. If you have sick coworkers, family or friends, give each other space to get better and to prevent the spread of germs. Assure them you can catch up when everyone is healthy, or try alternative methods of communication. As an extra step, clean your home and shared spaces, such as office cubicles, to help prevent the spread of germs and viruses.


Enjoy some R and R. It’s easy to get run down, especially during the holidays and in the middle of changing seasons. To feel your best and stay your healthiest, take it a little easy. Make sure you get enough sleep each night to recharge your body —at least 7-9 hours.


Eat healthy and drink plenty of fluids. It’s important to eat a balanced diet full of lean proteins, a variety of fruits and vegetables, healthy fats and lots of water. Fuel your body with the energy and nutrients it needs to help you stay well.

Stick to your exercise routine. Regular physical activity helps you manage stress, sleep well at night and stay strong —all factors in helping your immune system fight off infection. As the holidays approach, make time for yourself to work out. However, if you do feel yourself coming down with something, it’s important to rest up and feel better before you get back to your exercise routine.

See your doctor. If you start experiencing flu-like symptoms, make sure to contact your doctor to ensure a professional diagnosis and recommendations.

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This article is for informational purposes only, and is not meant as medical advice.