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Is it the flu or a cold?

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You wake up feeling achy and feverish, and immediately start coughing and sneezing. Is it a cold or the flu? It’s important to know the difference because a cold is milder and may only last for a few days. Influenza is commonly referred to as the flu and can last for several days or even weeks. The flu can also lead to pneumonia and other serious health problems. Here’s a look at the similarities and differences so you can determine, is it a cold or the flu?

Cold Symptoms

Colds usually begin with a sore throat. A runny or stuffy nose follows, along with a cough. Sneezing is common, and chest discomfort may develop. Children’s colds are more likely to include symptoms of fever, though fevers are quite uncommon among adults.

Cold symptoms usually last up to a week. You are contagious for the first three days, so be sure to stay home and rest to help you recover faster and avoid spreading germs. If your cold doesn’t improve after a week, you might have a bacterial infection that requires treatment with antibiotics. It could also indicate that your “cold” is actually hay fever or other allergies that certain medications may be able to treat.

Flu Symptoms

The flu usually sets in rapidly and comes with more intense symptoms, including a sore throat, runny or stuffy nose, coughing, and sneezing that are similar to a cold. Additional symptoms of the flu include headache, aches and pains, fatigue, and extreme exhaustion. Vomiting and diarrhea also are common flu-like symptoms.

Usually, the most severe flu symptoms last two to five days, though the illness may linger for a week or longer. Pneumonia is a common complication of the flu, especially among the young and the elderly. If you become short of breath, talk to your doctor about treatment options.


No one wants a cold or the flu, so you should do everything possible to prevent these illnesses. The best method is to wash your hands often and avoid close contact with anyone exhibiting cold and flulike symptoms. You should also receive an annual flu vaccine to reduce the chance of being infected by that year’s viral strain.