Cold Vs Flu

Last week I was hit with some form of viral illness. Initially I thought it was the flu and was a bit upset since I got the flu shot twice last year! Until I started speaking to another doctor who reminded me about the common cold.

Sometimes, we use cold and flu interchangeably but they are actually different. The thing is, they’re so similar based on symptoms its really hard to decide which is which, and often times you have to do a nasopharyngeal swab (a swab of the back of the nose) to isolate the virus causing the illness in order to really know.

The common cold is generally milder than the flu and are much less likely to lead to complications such as pneumonia, which is an infection of the lungs and rest of the lower respiratory tract. Persons can also go on to get ear or sinus infections from the flu.

Persons who are most at risk for getting complications from the flu are going to be those who have chronic illnesses, pregnant women, adults 65 and older and children younger than 5.

Read more from the CDC here and here.

Cold or Flu?
Taken from Centers for Disease Control and Prevention


At the end of the day, they may be difficult to differentiate. If you have any of the above risk factors, go to your doctor.

In general, both are treated more or less the same: Lot’s of rest and hydration. If you think you have the flu, tamiflu which is an antiviral called Oseltamivir can help within the first 48 hours of the symptoms presenting.

But you can treat the individual symptoms too:

Pain and fever? Take pandal

Stuffiness? Normal saline nose drops work

Sore throat? lozenges and honey… anything that coats the throat can soothe it.

Over the counter cold treatments can also work to relieve symptoms.

Whether cold or flu, don’t be afraid to seek medical advice, especially if you’re not getting better. Remember to get your flu shot. And take it easy. 

Did I have the cold or did I have the flu? Only a nasopharyngeal swab will tell- but I’m willing to bed it was the common cold!

Samantha C. Johnson


  1. Good article Samantha. Remember good old antihistamines and cough syrups (like DPH)!

  2. Good article Samantha. Remember good old antihistamines and cough syrups (like DPH)!

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