Cold vs Flu – what is the difference? As winter approaches, it’s a phrase you have no doubt researched to clarify potential red flags regarding your health. While there are some similarities, there are also a few distinct differences to help identify the two.
It can be difficult to tell which is which, as both are respiratory illnesses caused by a virus. Generally speaking, the symptoms of a common cold are generally milder compared to a bout of influenza. It’s important to pay attention to these symptoms though, as the flu can develop into more serious conditions such as pneumonia (especially in relation to small children, the elderly, pregnant women, or those with preexisting medical conditions).
Spotting the symptoms of a common cold or the flu
Your nose is runny or stuffy, you have a sore throat and your head is pounding – so how do you tell if you’ve caught the flu, or just have a cold?
Infographic courtesy of
Symptoms of the common cold include:
- Sore throat
- Runny or stuffy nose
While influenza does have some similarities, it’s rare to have a blocked nose or to be sneezing. Instead, additional symptoms to be on the lookout if you think you might have the flu include:
- A dry cough
- Aches and pains
While either can happen at any time of the year, cases for both influenza and the common cold tend to increase in the cooler months, as the viruses thrive in low humidity climates. Both are considered to be highly contagious, so it’s important to practice good hygiene to avoid them – meaning avoid touching surfaces when you can, and cover your mouth when you cough or sneeze.
When to see a doctor
If you are considered to be at risk of developing complications from influenza, please contact your doctor as soon. People considered to be “at risk” include:
- People aged over 65
- Children under the age of 2
- Pregnant women, or those under two weeks postpartum
- People with chronic medical conditions or weaker immune systems
- Aboriginal or Torres Strait Islander people
Please consider that the symptoms of influenza and Covid-19 (coronavirus) are very similar. Before presenting yourself in person at a medical facility, check your symptoms online via the Australian government’s Health Direct.
If you’re concerned about face to face interactions, it might be time to consider scheduling an online doctor’s appointment via the telehealth services available at 13 Doctor.