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Cold & Flu Differences


How does the flu differ from the common cold?

Cold vs. Flu

Both the common cold and flu are respiratory illness, but are caused by different viruses. While it is difficult to tell the difference between the two viruses, flu symptoms are typically more severe than a cold – fever, aches, fatigue, and coughing. Colds are generally milder, with runny or stuffy noses. Colds generally do not result in serious complications.

Courtesy: Centers for Disease Control and Prevention

Facts about the common cold.


Symptoms of the common cold are caused by over 200 different viruses. Some of these viruses, like the rhinovirus (which causes 30% - 35% of all adult colds), rarely produce severe illnesses. Others like parainfluenza and respiratory syncytial virus affect children with more severe respiratory infections than they cause in adults.

Cold Season:

In the United States, most colds occur during fall and winter months. The rate of cold infections begins rising in late August and early September, and remains consistently high until the late spring months. This may be due to a combination of the beginning of the school season and the onset of colder weather, both increasing the chances for the virus to spread indoors.


Symptoms from the common cold normally manifest 2 to 3 days after infection, and include:

  • Congestion buildup in and difficulty breathing through the nose.
  • Sinus swelling
  • Sneezing
  • Sore throat
  • Coughing
  • Headaches

Cold symptoms typically last 2 to 14 days, but rarely include high fevers. Most people recover in a week. Complication include bacterial ear and/or sinus infections. High fevers, swollen glands, significant sinus pain, and coughing to clear mucus are good indications and should result in a visit to a doctor.


The common cold has no cure, so treatment consists of managing the symptoms through:

  • Plenty of rest
  • Drinking lots of fluids
  • Sore throat relief via gargling warm salt water or use of sprays/lozenges
  • Using petroleum jelly for raw, sore noses
  • Use of acetaminophen for headaches and fever
Other Facts:
  • According to the CDC, 22 million school days are missed each year due to the common cold.
  • Over a given year, Americans get sick from 1 billion colds.
  • Children average 6 to 10 colds per year, likely due to their close contact in schools and childcare centers.
  • Adults average 2 to 4 colds per year, while women between 20 to 30 years old have more colds than men.

Courtesy: Centers for Disease Control and Prevention

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