CareNow® - January 13, 2020

It’s the feeling we all dread: waking up with that achy, feverish feeling while we sneeze and cough like crazy. One of the first things we wonder is whether these symptoms feel like a cold or the flu.

If you’re suffering from either, it’s smart to stay home until you’re no longer contagious. A fever is an indication that you have an infectious illness.

Colds are usually contagious for about eight days, and the flu is catching for as many as two weeks.

If your symptoms are uncomfortable, visit your local CareNow® for diagnosis and treatment.

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How Cold and Flu Viruses Are Spread

A cold, while miserable, usually keeps you down for only a few days, while you can be sick with the flu for weeks.

Cold and flu viruses are extremely contagious and transmitted by droplets of fluid that contain the virus. These droplets become airborne when an infected person sneezes, coughs or speaks.

The virus is spread when someone inhales these droplets or touches a surface that the virus has landed on and then touches the eyes or nose. To prevent getting sick, take these simple precautions:

  • Avoid close contact with people who have a cold
  • Wash your hands often
  • Do not touch your nose, eyes or mouth

Cold Symptoms Versus Flu Symptoms

A cold usually begins as a sore throat, which will stick around for a couple days. Once the sore throat has subsided, a runny nose or congestion coupled with a cough will follow for another few days.

Flu symptoms are typically more intense than cold symptoms and can come on rather quickly.

The flu also begins as a sore throat, but it is accompanied with a fever, muscle aches and a headache, as well as painful swallowing, a nagging cough and a persistent fever in more severe cases.

Signs of A Cold

woman with a thermometer in her mouth while holding her head

If you’re in the beginning stages of a cold, the first symptoms will likely appear one to three days after you’ve been exposed to the virus.

While the symptoms of a cold may vary from person to person, common ailments include:

  • Runny or stuffy nose
  • Sore throat
  • Cough
  • Congestion
  • Sneezing
  • Low-grade fever
  • General feeling of malaise
  • Achy muscles or a mild headache

You may notice nasal discharge becoming thicker and turning yellow or green as the cold progresses. Don’t mistake this for a bacterial infection.

Can You Have a Fever with a Cold?

You can have a mild fever with a cold. If it’s higher than 101 degrees Fahrenheit, it could be symptomatic of strep throat.

Someone with strep is likely to develop a high fever in the first few days of the illness. If you notice that your temperature suddenly spikes, you should call a doctor.

How Long Does the Common Cold Last?

For most adults, the common cold will last anywhere from a week to 10 days. If you have a cough, your recovery may take longer—about 18 days to fully recuperate.

Cold symptoms may last longer in those who smoke. If your symptoms don’t improve, you should see a doctor.

Flying with a Cold

woman blowing her nose

If you have cold-like symptoms, you may want to reconsider flying out of consideration for fellow passengers.

Research shows that travelers who sit within two rows of someone with flu-like symptoms are at a 3.6 percent increased risk of contracting the illness. 

If you’re unable to postpone your trip and your symptoms are under control using over-the-counter medications, be aware that flying with a cold can be painful. The swelling of mucus membranes can cause the eustachian tubes in the ears to swell.

The ears can become blocked due to the change in air pressure on the plane, resulting in excruciating pain.

Before boarding, take a decongestant to help reduce swelling and chew gum during the flight to help open up the pressure in your throat, which will in turn open up the eustachian tubes.

Can You Get a Flu Shot with a Cold?

Determining whether you should get a flu shot while you have a cold depends on your symptoms.

If your symptoms are mild, it’s likely OK.

If your illness is moderate to severe, it’s a good idea to wait until you’ve recovered as you will not be able to tell whether the muscle soreness, headache or fever is a reaction to the shot. If you’re unsure, contact your doctor.

man receiving a flu shot

How to Know You Have the Flu

Being able to identify the early symptoms of the flu can help you treat it early and prevent it from spreading.

Flu symptoms tend to come on much more quickly than a cold, and you may also develop a fever. Other flu symptoms include:

  • Headache
  • Sore throat
  • Runny nose
  • Dry cough
  • Weakness or extreme fatigue
  • Pain and tiredness around the eyes
  • Warm, flushed skin
  • Severe muscle aches

How Long Does the Flu Last?

For a healthy adult, the flu lasts one to two weeks. The most severe symptoms occur for two to three days.

Weakness, fatigue, dry cough and a reduced ability to exercise can continue to linger for three to seven days after the other symptoms have subsided.

The contagious period of the flu begins one day before symptoms begin and lasts five to seven days after you’ve been sick.

Can You Have the Flu Without a Fever?

mother with her hand on her child's forehead while looking at a thermometer.

While it’s common for someone with the flu to also have a fever, not everyone will.

Even if you don’t, you should treat your flu symptoms seriously. If your flu is accompanied with a fever higher than 100 degrees Fahrenheit, it’s likely one of the reasons that you feel so bad.

Pneumonia Versus Flu

Pneumonia and the flu have very similar symptoms, which can make it difficult to tell the two apart.

Typically, pneumonia is characterized by respiratory symptoms, and the symptoms ramp up slowly over several days.

The best way to determine if you have pneumonia or the flu is to see your doctor

When To Visit Your Doctor Or Your Local CareNow®

If you believe you have a cold or the flu, consider visiting your local CareNow® for a proper diagnosis. Remember to also help prevent your child from getting a viral illness this year by taking him or her to CareNow® for immunizations.

CareNow® urgent care accepts walk-in patients all day so you have access to convenient care when you need it. Or, be sure to check in online to avoid the waiting room!

Web Check-In®

Disclaimer: Patients’ health can vary. Always consult with a medical professional before taking medication, making health-related decisions or deciding if medical advice is right for you.