How Do the Symptoms of the Flu & the Common Cold Differ?

white thermometer at 36 degrees celsius

The common cold affects the average adult about two to four times per year. It’s a viral disease that causes a variety of symptoms in a person, and it is often confused with the flu. This is because the flu has strikingly similar symptoms that affect the same body parts, making it tricky to effectively distinguish between the two.

That being said, it’s important that you know how to differentiate a cold from the flu because the corresponding treatments will vary. That way, you can take the appropriate steps to facilitate a speedy recovery.

To help you out, here is a quick rundown of the symptoms the two diseases share and the tell-tale signs that can help you differentiate between them.

Common Symptoms

Generally, if you feel that your symptoms are extreme and have a debilitating impact on your body, you will most likely have caught the flu. However, you can take a closer look at the severity and scope of your symptoms to help you determine what you are experiencing.

1. Sneezing, Runny Nose, and Sore Throat

These symptoms are common symptoms of a cold. A person who has the flu may also experience these symptoms but without the runny nose. The next time you experience these symptoms, check whether you have a runny nose. If you do, you probably just have a cold.

2. Fever

A fever is a sign that an infection is present in a person’s body. The increased temperature is one of the immune system’s ways to fight off disease-causing germs.

Typically, when a person has a fever, they will experience weakness, sweating, dehydration, chills, and loss of appetite. These symptoms happen when a person has the flu but rarely when they have a cold. 

In any case, if you are facing a fever of more than 104 degrees Fahrenheit, you need to seek immediate medical care.

3. Body Aches

Patients who have the flu often experience pain all over their body as their muscles stiffen due to their immune system’s response. These pains are often more incapacitating when a person has the flu, preventing them from functioning effectively. However, pain can also be a sign of a cold, albeit to a much lesser degree.

Notable Difference: Onset of Symptoms

Another good indicator to help you determine whether you have the flu or a cold is to assess the timeframe of your conditions. Typically, symptoms of the common cold manifest gradually and can develop over hours or even days. On the other hand, the flu hits a person much quicker, often catching them off-guard and manifesting severe symptoms almost instantaneously.


The common cold and flu often have similar symptoms, making them difficult to distinguish. One way you can differentiate the two is by looking at the severity and onset of your symptoms.

A person who has a common cold is likely to experience congestion and sore throat. Although a patient who has flu can have these symptoms as well, they will most likely experience several other symptoms, including high fever and severe body aches.

Another difference between the two is that symptoms of a cold appear gradually, while severe flu symptoms manifest in an instant. Next time you or your loved one experiences any of these symptoms, refer to the information above so that you can seek the correct treatment you need.

If you are looking for a pediatric urgent care center in New Jersey, contact us today. Our professional doctors and nurses at our walk-in clinic will be glad to assist and attend to your health and medical needs.

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