Skip to main content

Health Library

It can be difficult to tell a cold from the flu.

Cold or flu? Know how they differ. Take a look.

reviewed 9/17/2019

Is it a cold or the flu?

Colds and the flu share some common symptoms. In general, cold symptoms tend to start slowly and are usually much milder than the flu, which can come on suddenly and be serious.

Let’s take a closer look at the symptoms.

ACHES AND PAINS: BOTH

Sometimes occurs with a cold, but are mild. Common and often severe with the flu.

VOMITING OR DIARRHEA: FLU

Never occurs with a cold. Sometimes occurs with the flu and more common in kids than adults.

FATIGUE: BOTH

Sometimes occurs with a cold. Common with the flu and can last up to 3 weeks.

SNEEZING: BOTH

Common with a cold. Sometimes occurs with the flu.

EXTREME EXHAUSTION: FLU

Never occurs with a cold. Common at the start of the illness with the flu.

STUFFY OR RUNNY NOSE: BOTH

Common with a cold. Sometimes occurs with the flu.

FEVER: FLU

Rare with a cold. Common with the flu.

COUGH OR CHEST DISCOMFORT: BOTH

Common with a cold and can be mild to moderate in severity. Common with the flu and can be severe.

HEADACHE: FLU

Rare with a cold. Common with the flu.

SORE THROAT: BOTH

Common with a cold. Sometimes occurs with the flu.

Flu in the family? Here’s how to help stop the spread.

LEARN MORE

Sources: American Academy of Family Physicians; Centers for Disease Control and Prevention; National Institutes of Health

Related stories

Choose Language