MedSpring Viewpoints

Is it a Cold or the Flu?

Sniffley, sneezy and just plain miserable? No this isn’t one of those corny, late-night infomercials. And, no we’re not trying to sell you any cough medicine. We just want to help you understand if the reason you’re feeling under the weather is the common cold or the much more serious flu.

Both the cold and flu share similar symptoms such as a coughing, sore throat and headaches, so it is often difficult to tell the two conditions apart. The most effective way to determine if you are suffering from a cold or the flu is to have a doctor or urgent care facility administer a flu test. There are, however, certain characteristics of each that may give a clue as to which one you are suffering from.

Common Cold:Cold vs Flu Meme

  • Less severe symptoms
  • Symptoms develop gradually
  • More likely to suffer from runny or stuffy nose
  • Usually does not lead to serious complications
  • Most common in winter and spring months
  • Recovery within 7-10 days


  • More intense symptoms
  • Usually develops rapidly and without warning
  • Can cause high fever (*although not everyone will develop this)
  • Typically seen in January and February
  • Recovery less than two weeks, if no complications
  • More likely to result in serious health complications including pneumonia, bacterial infections and hospitalizations

In Texas seasonal allergies in the form of Cedar Fever can also be common cause of flu-like symptoms, particularly in the first months of the year.

Prevention & Treatment

Woman SneezingThe best way to keep from getting the flu this season is to get flu shot. Since flu strains can vary from year to year, the CDC recommends that everyone 6 months and up receive a flu shot annually.

Good hygiene and personal habits can also reduce your risk for catching both the cold and flu. Viruses can survive on hard surfaces such as light switches, door knobs, grocery carts and refrigerator handles for up to two days. Be sure to follow the recommendations below to fight off harmful germs.

  • Wash your hands with soap and water frequently for at least 20 seconds
  • Avoid close contact with sick people
  • Avoid touching your eyes nose and mouth, as viruses can enter your body this way
  • Cover your cough
  • Wipe down commonly touched surfaces often with household cleaners or disinfecting wipes

With a common cold, your doctor or medical provider will most likely recommend a combination of rest, fluids and OTC medications. If you have the flu, your doctor may prescribe anti-viral drugs such as Tamiflu.

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