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Is It a Cold or the Flu? Here Are the Differences

Is It a Cold or the Flu? Here Are the Differences

Written By: Ashley Kane on November 01, 2019

Uh-oh… that scratchy throat, clogged nose, achy muscles. Is it a cold is coming on – or could it be the dreaded flu?

Colds and the flu share many of the same symptoms, but what sets the flu apart is how severe those symptoms are and how fast they happen. Both colds and flu are caused by viruses, but the flu virus can make a harsher attack on your body.   

What’s the difference?


Sometimes it’s hard to tell the difference based on symptoms alone. Special tests can be done in the first few days of getting sick to see if it’s the flu. A symptom chart like this one can come in handy too:

Cold vs. Flu comparison chart

Protect yourself and your family

Although a cold can make you miserable, it usually doesn’t cause serious health problems. But the flu can cause complications like pneumonia and bacterial infections, and some people need to be hospitalized. Older adults, pregnant women and young children may be at a higher risk for flu complications.

Vaccines are available for the flu but not for the common cold. That’s because more than 200 different viruses cause colds, but much fewer cause the flu. Flu vaccines are developed to fight the most common types of flu viruses each year.

Experts recommend a flu vaccine, which can be given as a shot or a nasal spray, for adults and children age 6 months and older. You should not get a flu vaccine if you have a life-threatening illness or are allergic to ingredients within the vaccine. 

Despite the rumors, you can’t actually get the flu from the vaccine. Although it’s still possible to get the flu even though you’ve been vaccinated, it would typically be a milder case.

Other ways to protect yourself and those around you include:

  • Washing your hands often
  • Sneezing into your elbow 
  • Disinfecting common surfaces such as doorknobs, tables and bathrooms

Get care without leaving home

Colds and especially the flu can leave you feeling down and fatigued. If you want to see a doctor but can’t drag yourself out the door, Amwell is here to help!

You can have a consult in minutes with Amwell’s online doctors 24/7, 365 days a year. Just like an in-person visit, they can assess your symptoms and recommend a treatment plan. If you need medicine to get you through, they can provide a prescription and send it to the pharmacy of your choice.

Now that’s nothing to sneeze at!