Flu vs. cold

You wake up with a pounding head, a runny nose and uncontrollable sneezing. You’re pretty sure it’s just a head cold, but you didn’t have a flu shot this year, and you’re worried it’s the flu.

What’s the difference between these two common conditions? Look for these telltale signs of the flu:

  • A severe fever. You may have a low-grade fever below 100 degrees Fahrenheit when you have a cold. If you have a fever above 101 degrees, it’s probably the flu.
  • Severe symptoms that come on fast. While a cold and the flu have similar symptoms, flu symptoms are often more severe. The flu also has a quick onset, while colds are more likely to develop over time. If symptoms appear almost overnight and last for as long as a week without getting any better, it’s probably the flu.
  • Achy-breaky body. While the cold and the flu both leave you tired, the flu results in severe exhaustion and body aches. If you feel exhausted, worn out and achy, it’s probably the flu.
  • No running. A mild cough is common in both illnesses, but the flu rarely results in a runny nose. If you do not have a runny nose (but do have other symptoms), it’s probably the flu.

If you suspect you or a family member has the flu, go to a doctor immediately. Unlike colds, the flu can lead to multiple serious complications, including pneumonia, encephalitis, and seizures.

Your doctor will perform a flu test to determine whether it’s truly the flu, and they may prescribe antiviral drugs to get you back on your feet faster or offer advice to lessen symptoms.

Need a Primary Care Physician? Dr. Rita George specializes in a wide variety of conditions and injuries. She treats significant diseases and conditions including cold and flu, asthma and allergies, ear and eye infections, diabetes, high blood pressure, minor wound care, and muscle tears and sprains. To schedule an appointment, call 215-785-9677.

Lower Bucks Hospital Community Health Center, Third Floor, 501 Bath Road, Bristol; 215-785-9677;

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PHOTO CAP: Dr. Rita George specializes in a wide variety of conditions and injuries.

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