Cold vs. Flu - ConvenientMD

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Cold vs. Flu


Dr. Jo Gates

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Cold vs. Flu

Winter is in full-swing, which has many people gearing up for skiing, snowboarding and other outdoor excursions now that the holidays are behind us. Unfortunately, the winter months also come at a time of year when colds, the flu and other illnesses begin to run rampant. While most people understand the differences between influenza “the flu” and the common cold, symptoms between the two are commonly mixed-up, which can be dangerous given that influenza can cause more serious illness.

Extremely contagious, the influenza virus spreads throughout the respiratory tract and can result in symptoms ranging from mild to severe—influenza leads to as many as 56,000 deaths each year in the United States. Rather than simply assuming it’s a cold, it’s important to take a moment to listen to your body this winter and seek medical attention if you think it could be the flu.

Here are a handful of common symptoms to watch out for, as well as what they might mean.



Sneezing uncontrollably? While an uptick in sneezes can sometimes be associated with the flu, it’s also one of the first signs many people experience when coming down with the common cold.

Stuffy / Runny Nose

If your nose just won’t stop running and getting air without breathing through your mouth is a challenge, you’re probably dealing with the most hallmark of all cold symptoms. Though flu can cause these symptoms, they’re usually less pronounced.

Sore Throat

There are few things more uncomfortable than an incredibly sore throat, which can make some colds seem way worse in nature than they actually are. Though less common with the flu, sore throats can occur. In the absence of cold symptoms, they may also be a warning sign of strep throat. If a sore throat persists and doesn’t let up, a visit to ConvenientMD is advised.


Cough is a tough one, as it’s typically experienced with both colds and flu. The difference, however, can be found in the type of cough. With flu, coughs tend to be dry and persistent, and may be painful, while wet coughs that expel discolored phlegm are more likely to be the result of the common cold. When in doubt, get checked out.



It’s not uncommon for body temperature to rise slightly when a cold hits—especially in the beginning stages. If you’re running a fever of 102 F or higher, however, you may be experiencing one of the most uncomfortable symptoms of the flu. Fever in a cold typically lasts 1-2 days, but much longer during the flu.

Fatigue / Exhaustion

When we pick up a cold, it’s natural to feel a bit “under the weather” and not want to leave the house. The flu, on the other hand, tends to come along with bouts of extreme fatigue and even exhaustion, which makes getting up and doing anything a challenge in and of itself. If you’re feeling extremely exhausted, it’s may be a case of the flu.

Aches and Pains

Aches and pains are similar to fatigue in that they should be expected (slightly) with a cold, yet not nearly to the extent of what is typical of the flu. Influenza can cause full-body aches, including intense headaches that can seem nearly impossible to shake.


Still not sure what you’re sick with? Visit any of ConvenientMD’s 11 locations today to get seen by a member of our knowledgeable medical staff—we’ll diagnose you and get you on the road to recovery.

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