Have Cold Or Flu Symptoms? Here's How To Tell The Difference

Have Cold Or Flu Symptoms? Here's How To Tell The Difference

It's not always easy to determine whether you have a cold or flu. Your nose is closed, your throat is ticklish, and your head is pounding. Is it flu or cold? Symptoms may overlap, so if you start to get sick, it is difficult to recognize the difference. Here are a few simple guidelines to determine the difference between flu and cold and some tips for what to do while sick with either.

Common cold

The common seasonal cold causes inflammation of the airways and is the main reason for a visit to the GP and missed work or school days. A cold dissolves fairly quickly while the symptoms can remain present for up to two weeks. In contrast to flu, the symptoms in a cold are quite mild and rarely lead to serious health complaints.

Research from the United States (Eccles, R. 2005. Understanding the symptoms of the common cold and influenza) has shown that there are more than a hundred different viruses that can cause colds. The rhinovirus, however, is in most cases the reason people begin to sneeze and sniff. This virus is very contagious. Most viruses that cause colds thrive best in a low-humidity environment, which is probably the reason that colds are most common in autumn and winter. Yet, you can catch a cold throughout the year. When a sick person sneezes or coughs, viruses are released into the air. You may also become ill if you touch a surface (for example a door handle) that has recently been touched by someone with a virus and if you then touch your nose, mouth, or eyes you can get infected.

Symptoms of colds are:

Running nose
Stuffy nose
A sore throat
To sneeze
Light temperature increase
A cough
A headache
Slight fatigue
Tearing eyes


Flu is another disorder of the airways and it is caused by Influenza A and B viruses. Active influenza viruses differ from year to year, and therefore a new vaccine is developed every year to protect against it. Flu can develop into a much more serious condition such as pneumonia. This is especially true for small children, the elderly, pregnant women, and asthma patients. Flu is most common in the autumn with a peak in the winter months. You can catch flu in the same way as a cold, namely through (indirect) contact with someone who is infected. The symptoms of flu are very similar to those of a cold, but they are generally more severe.

Symptoms of flu are:

A dry cough
Cold shivers
A sore throat
Running nose
More extended periods of heavy fatigue (often fatigue is accompanied by not being able to sleep well)
Poor appetite
Be out of breath quickly
A headache
Painful, stiff limbs
Muscle strain

The remedy is the same for both cases of flu and colds: take sufficient rest. You basically do not have to take medicine against colds and flu. For the flu, you can possibly get a flu shot if you belong to the risk groups (people with diabetes, weak resistance due to illness, elderly people). Other tips for flu and cold: drink plenty of water, tea, and fruit juice. Treat the symptoms with cough drops, painkillers, nasal spray, inhalation ointment, and/or steaming.
Contact your doctor if the cold or flu lasts longer than two weeks. If you have a fever for more than five days or if the fever comes back after it has been gone, then it is also wise to contact the doctor.