This is how you can tell if you're suffering from the flu or a simple cold

The words 'cold' and 'flu' are often used interchangeably. These two illnesses may produce similar symptoms, yet they are quite distinct. Here's what you should know.

cold flu symptoms difference health
© Teen Spirit / Blank Tape
cold flu symptoms difference health

Aside from their symptoms (sore throat, headache, fatigue, runny nose...), colds and flu share many similarities. Both illnesses are linked to the cold, or a change in temperature. What's more, both colds and flu are highly contagious and caused by viruses. But flu and cold viruses are not the same, and do not act in the same way.

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More or less intense symptoms

While cold and flu symptoms are similar, the main difference lies in their intensity. While the flu will usually leave you bedridden and unable to work, a cold will usually only cause mild discomfort.

The explanation is simple. Type A, B or C influenza viruses enter the bloodstream and then spread throughout the body. Such a virus causes widespread symptoms. The common cold, on the other hand, is generally linked to a rhinovirus. Although there are hundreds of variants, they all have one thing in common: they are mainly confined to the nose and throat.

A common misconception is that a fever is necessarily linked to the flu. However, this is not always the case. A cold can also be accompanied by fever. Conversely, some people go through bouts of flu without experiencing a fever.

If you're in any doubt, you should visit your GP for a diagnosis. Only a medical professional will be able to determine with certainty whether you have the flu or a cold. However, a few signs may give you an indication.

The viruses that cause influenza and rhinopharyngitis (i.e. the common cold) are transmitted mainly by the respiratory route.

Prevention and treatment

You know the saying: 'Treat your cold and it will cure in seven days. Without medication, it will last a week'. At the risk of disappointing you, let's say it right away: there's no miracle cure for a cold or flu.

Treatment of a cold or flu involves rest. Taking paracetamol in case of fever or headache is recommended to reduce the intensity of these symptoms. Drinking plenty of fluids and taking inhalations can also decongest nasal passages.

For the flu, you can get vaccinated in early autumn. But beware: even when vaccinated, you can still contract the flu virus. Although your risk of infection is much lower than that of an unvaccinated person, the vaccine does not provide 100% protection. Especially as the virus can mutate.

Finally, the flu is a potentially fatal disease. It is responsible for the deaths of 11,000 to 15,000 patients every year in the UK. The majority of flu victims are elderly. The common cold, on the other hand, causes only mild symptoms. It is only fatal in exceptional cases of respiratory superinfection.

Read more:

Here's why you should always cover your nose when it's cold outside

Is cold weather the reason you’re catching a cold?

Woman's flu symptoms turns out to be flesh-eating bacteria ravaging her body

Flu season: Expert reveals how long you have to stay away from people if you're sick

Woman who thought she had the flu ends up hospitalized for something much worse

This article has been translated from Gentside FR.

Steam inhalation: Do they really work against colds and the flu? Steam inhalation: Do they really work against colds and the flu?