Tips and Tools: Is it a cold or the flu?

It can be difficult to know if you have a cold or the flu. The chart below compares how the symptoms for colds and flu differ.

Symptom Cold Flu
Fever Rarely Predictable, high fever (38-41º C =
102-104º F); usually lasts 3-4 days
Headache Rarely Bad headache common
General aches
and pains
Sometimes, but
usually mild
Usually, and often quite severe
Sometimes, but
usually mild
Yes, and can last up to 2-3 weeks
No Yes, starts early and remains for
duration of additional symptoms
Stuffy nose Common Sometimes
Sneezing Usually Sometimes
Sore Throat Common Sometimes
Chest discomfort,
Cough is usually
mild to moderate
and hacking
Cough is common and can
become severe
Sinus congestion
or earache is
Flu' can increase risk of bronchitis
or pneumonia which can be very
severe, and life-threatening in
certain people
Prevention None Annual vaccinations are available
for 'flu and pneumonia.
Treatment Treatment of
symptoms is all
that is available.
Colds are caused
by viruses for
which no cure
has been found.
Antiviral medicines are available
which may decrease the duration of
the 'flu symptoms. Ask your doctor if
they would be suitable under the
circumstances of your condition.
Adapted from "Is it a Cold or the Flu?"; the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases April '99

Learn more about Cough and Flu