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Is it a Cold or the Flu?

Updated: Nov 18, 2018


A nurse summed up the scale of flu-season illness best when she noted “There are usually about 50 flu-like illnesses that circulate during flu season that can make you feel pretty miserable, but they’re not all the flu.” When you’re clinging to a tissue box though, knowing about sheer volume of parading illness doesn’t do much to aid your ills. You, and about thirty thousand other Americans, just need the answer to one question:


Cold or flu?


Doctors are the first to admit that telling the difference between the cold and the flu is more challenging than one might hope. The good news is that there are some key indicators that can help guide you toward self-diagnosis.





How did you feel yesterday?

If you’ve been feeling lousy for days now, you likely have a cold. It typically takes 2-4 days for the typical common cold to pack its punch. Symptoms tend to evolve from minor fatigue and sneezing to a runny nose and productive (read: phlegmy) cough over the course of a week.


Other cold symptoms include:

  • Congestion

  • Hacking

  • Cough

  • Mild fever

  • Sore throat

The flu packs more of a punch. Its onset is typically rapid, so if you remember feeling chipper yesterday and are exhausted and achey today, it’s likely time to see a doctor. While the evolution of the common cold is unpleasant, the evolution of the flu can be debilitating. Total exhaustion, muscle aches and headache tend to lead to coughing, sniffling and a fever over 101 degrees.


Other flu symptoms include:

  • Congestion

  • Chills

  • Dry cough

  • Sore throat

Still not sure which symptom set describes you?


Have a cough? How does it sound?


Because the cold and flu are caused by different viruses and affect the respiratory system in different ways, they tend to produce coughs that sound different. The cold tends to produce a wet cough that produces phlegm. The flu leaves you with a dry cough that starts deep in your lungs.


Flu or cold, we wish you well! We leave you with some levity from a Seattle MD.




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