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Is it a Cold or the Flu?
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Jan 2017

Is it a Cold or the Flu?

Influenza (flu) and colds are both respiratory infections caused by viruses. If a cold is misdiagnosed as the flu, there's no problem. At worst, a cold can occasionally lead to secondary bacterial infections of the middle ear or sinuses, which can be treated with antibiotics. But if the flu is misdiagnosed as a bad cold, potentially life-threatening flu complications, such as pneumonia, can be overlooked. 

If you're feeling achy, tired (maybe exhausted), feverish, and have a headache and persistent cough, you may have the flu (influenza). You may also have a runny nose, sneezing, and a sore throat. Your fever can go as high as 104 degrees and can last for three to four days. You may feel weak up to 14 days.

If you're experiencing nausea, vomiting, and diarrhea, you probably don't have influenza. These are symptoms of a stomach virus known as gastroenteritis.

Some of the symptoms of a cold and the flu are similar, but specific symptoms of the two diseases can differentiate them. Check your symptoms and ask your medical provider for advice.

Symptoms Cold Flu
Fever Rare in adults and older children, but can be high in infants and small children. Usually high and lasts three to four days
Headache Rare Sudden onset and can be severe
Muscle aches Mild Common and often severe
Tiredness and weakness Mild Can last two or more weeks
Extreme exhaustion Never Sudden onset and can be severe
Runny nose Often Sometimes
Sneezing Often Sometimes
Sore throat Often Sometimes
Cough Mild hacking cough Common and can become severe


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