CareNow® - November 15, 2023

It’s that time of year again when a sneeze or cough can leave you wondering if you’ve got allergies, a cold, or the flu. If your symptoms turn out to be either a cold or the flu, the basic direction is the same: stay home and get plenty of rest so you can recover.

However, there are specific treatments that vary depending on which illness you have, so it’s important to know exactly what you’re dealing with. The best way to get a proper diagnosis is by visiting your provider or local urgent care clinic; however, there are signs and symptoms to watch for that can help you determine whether you’ve got a cold or the flu. Here’s what you need to know.

What Are the Symptoms of a Cold?

In most instances, a cold begins with a sore throat. This normally goes away within a day or two and is followed by nasal symptoms such as a runny nose and congestion. It’s also common to develop a cough by the fourth or fifth day of a cold. You may also notice a fever.

Although cold symptoms will usually last about a week, you should only be contagious for the first three days that symptoms are present. During this time, you’re highly contagious, so you should avoid being around others. Instead, stay home and rest so you can recover.

If your allergy symptoms don’t resolve after a week, you may have a bacterial infection and need an antibiotic to clear it up. Antibiotics are almost never necessary for a cold.

What Are the Symptoms of the Flu?

The influenza viruses enter your body via the mucous membranes of your eyes, nose, or mouth, which means you could be infecting yourself any time you touch one of these areas. Keeping your hands clean by washing them regularly for at least 20 seconds is one of the best ways to prevent the flu.

If you’ve got the flu, there are some tell-tale signs to look out for, including:

  • Muscle or body aches
  • Fatigue (tiredness)
  • Fever or chills
  • Sore throat
  • Runny or stuffy nose
  • Headache

In most cases, flu symptoms will improve slowly over two to five days, although it’s possible to feel symptoms for up to a week or more.

Pneumonia is a common flu complication, especially for those with existing lung or heart problems as well as the young and elderly. If you notice shortness of breath, you should seek medical attention as this could be an early sign of pneumonia.

One of the best ways to prevent the flu is by getting your flu shot. Now is the best time of year to get your vaccine so you can fight the virus before it begins to peak. CareNow® urgent care clinics offer discounted flu shots for just $20.

Learn More About Urgent Care Services

How Does CareNow Treat Cold, Flu, and Allergies?

CareNow urgent care providers offer comprehensive treatments for various health conditions, including colds, flu, and allergies. We treat each condition differently, so we must test you before we begin treatment. Our approach includes:


CareNow providers assess the symptoms and severity of the condition, conducting a thorough evaluation to determine the appropriate treatment plan.

Prescription Medications:

Depending on the diagnosis, our providers may prescribe medications to alleviate symptoms. Most over-the-counter and prescription treatment is based on symptomatic relief, not curing the virus.

Advice and Education:

Our providers give patients advice on managing symptoms at home and educate them about signs that indicate worsening conditions, prompting timely medical attention if needed.

Follow-up Care:

In some cases, CareNow might recommend follow-up appointments to monitor progress, especially if symptoms are getting worse, or not improving over 7-10 days.

Is Flu Worse Than Cold?

Yes, the flu (influenza) is generally worse than the common cold. While both are respiratory illnesses caused by different viruses, the symptoms of the flu tend to be more severe and can lead to serious complications.

Flu symptoms often include sudden onset of high fever, body aches, extreme fatigue, cough, and sore throat. In some cases, the flu can result in pneumonia and hospitalization, especially in vulnerable populations such as the elderly, young children, and individuals with weakened immune systems.

Colds, on the other hand, usually have milder symptoms such as a runny or stuffy nose and a sore throat. While both the flu and cold are contagious, the flu can cause more widespread and severe outbreaks, leading to higher rates of hospitalization and, unfortunately, death.

How to Tell if You Have the Flu or COVID?

Distinguishing between flu and COVID-19 can be challenging as they share many symptoms. Both illnesses can cause fever, cough, body aches, fatigue, and respiratory issues. However, there are some differences that can help identify each:

Flu Symptoms:

  • Rapid Onset: Flu symptoms usually develop suddenly.
  • Fever: Fever is common with the flu but not always present.
  • Body Aches: Severe body aches and headaches are common in the flu.
  • Nasal Congestion: Stuffy nose can occur.
  • Sore Throat: Sore throat is a common symptom.

COVID-19 Symptoms:

  • Gradual Onset: COVID-19 symptoms might appear 2-14 days after exposure.
  • Fever: Fever is a common symptom of the virus.
  • Shortness of Breath: Difficulty breathing is more common in severe cases.
  • Fatigue: Feeling more tired than usual could be a sign of the illness.
  • Headache: In some cases, headaches can be an indicator of COVID-19.

It should be noted that symptoms of COVID-19 can evolve with various strains, so you should talk with a medical provider about your exact symptoms.

Given the overlap in symptoms, the best way to confirm whether you have the flu or COVID-19 is through testing. COVID-19 tests, including PCR and rapid antigen tests, can determine if you are infected with the coronavirus. If you suspect you have either illness, it's essential to get tested and follow public health guidelines to prevent the spread of the virus.

If you suspect you have cold or flu symptoms and require an accurate diagnosis, a visit to your nearby CareNow clinic is recommended. With over 225 locations nationwide, there's a convenient clinic near you.

Moreover, we are proud to announce that we have been recognized as an Accredited Urgent Care Center by the Urgent Care Association (UCA), a testament to our commitment to high-quality care.

To schedule your appointment, please visit CareNow website. Don't miss out on our Web Check-In® feature, designed to enhance your experience and reduce waiting time!

Find a CareNow Near You