Difference Between a Cold and the Flu

March 10, 2023

When you have the sniffles and a fever, and you’re feeling tired and generally not well, is it a cold or the flu? First, just what is the common cold and what is the flu? Medically, both are termed upper respiratory infections. This means that your nose and throat are generally affected, but not your lungs. The thing that distinguishes cold from flu is the type of virus that causes each of them. The common cold can be caused by a huge variety of cold viruses, while flu is caused by influenza virus. The distinction is important because different treatments are available. More on that later. Let’s look at signs and symptoms:


  • Fever and/or chills
  • Nasal congestion or running
  • Cough
  • Sore throat
  • Aches throughout body muscles
  • Tiredness
  • Occasionally vomiting or diarrhea, usually in children

Common Cold

  • Fever
  • Nasal congestion or running
  • Cough
  • Sore throat

Judging by the list, many of the signs and symptoms are overlapping between the common cold and the flu. However, one common symptom when suffering from the flu are body aches, which are less common with a cold.

For many people, it does not really matter if it’s a cold or the flu, because rest and fluids are the treatment of choice for either. For some, however, influenza can be serious and should be treated medically. Individuals susceptible to serious complications include adults over 65, children 2 years of age or younger, and people with serious chronic diseases. For this reason, testing can be performed to determine whether influenza treatment is required.

The Infectious Diseases Society of America recommends what are known as rapid influenza molecular assays to detect influenza in your doctor’s office. Your doctor will swab your throat and perform a test that gives results in 10 to 15 minutes. If the test is positive for influenza, then medication can be given. Current medications for shortening the course of influenza and preventing complications are oseltamivir (Tamiflu), zanamivir (Relenza), peramivir (Rapivab), and baloxavir (Xofluza). Over-the-counter medications such as acetaminophen (Tylenol) or ibuprofen help bring comfort. Children and adolescents should not take aspirin because of the danger of developing Reye’s syndrome—a rare but serious complication.

The above anti-influenza medications are available with a prescription.

Where can I get Tamiflu?

QuickMD can prescribe Tamiflu online via telemedicine. The cost of Tamiflu ranges from $20 to $46 for a pack of 10 pills, dose 75.0 mg. To find the least expensive pharmacy near you, and to get a coupon, click here.

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