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A 20-year-old member asked:

what's the difference between a cold and a flu?

11 doctor answers23 doctors weighed in
Dr. Joshua Batt
Emergency Medicine 9 years experience
Fever and vomiting: Cold: sore throat, nasal congestion and drainage, and cough. Fevers may occur in children, but are uncommon in adults. Flu: sore throat, fever, headache, muscle aches, soreness, congestion, and cough. Vomiting and diarrhea may also occur. Both are caused by viruses and usually last for 3-7 days.
Dr. Gregg Alexander
Pediatrics 33 years experience
They may be hard to distinguish, but the flu usually makes you feel worse!
Oct 23, 2011
Dr. Andrew Murphy
Allergy and Immunology 29 years experience
Similar: A "cold" and the "flu" are types of viral infections that cause upper respiratory and lower respiratory tract symptoms. A cold is cause by several different type of viruses. Flu refers to influenza a specific type of virus. Flu tends to be more severe than "colds" and can be prevented or attenuated by yearly "flu shots".
Dr. Mohammad Homsi
Neurology 33 years experience
It is very common among general population to mistaken between cold and flu
Jan 26, 2012
Dr. Asaf Presente
Pulmonary Critical Care 16 years experience
Some overlap: Most people have frequent "colds" which are usually caused by rhinovirus, adenoviruses and others small viruses - the body usually confines these to the upper respiratory tract and usually fights them off in 2-5 days. Over 5-10 days the flu can spread down into the lungs, causes high fevers, muscle pain, joint pain and more rarely lead to severe pneumonia requiring ventilator support and death.
Dr. Heidi Fowler
Psychiatry 25 years experience
Cold vs flu symptoms: Flu symptoms may include fever, sore throat, cough, achiness all over, headache, chills, feeling tired, nasal congestion, nausea, vomiting or diarrhea. Colds are usually much milder than the flu and often lead to a runny nose. Colds don’t usually lead to serious complications (i.e., pneumonia).
Dr. Arnold Malerman
Orthodontics 53 years experience
Different virus: Flu symptoms more intense than cold symptoms
Dr. Simon Tsiouris
Infectious Disease 23 years experience
Different viruses: The common cold is caused by a number of different viruses including coronaviruses and rhinoviruses. The flu is caused specifically by the influenza virus and tends to be more severe.
Dr. Heidi Fowler
Psychiatry 25 years experience
FLU vs Cold sxs: Flu symptoms may include fever, sore throat, cough, achiness all over, headache, chills, feeling tired, nasal congestion, nausea, vomiting or diarrhea. Colds are usually much milder than the flu and often lead to a runny nose. Colds don’t usually lead to serious complications (i.e., pneumonia).
Dr. Gregory Hines
Family Medicine 24 years experience
Different viruses: Influenza is caused by a very specific type of virus. It is highly contagious and can be very severe depending on the patient. The common cold is caused by a group of various viruses, and while problematic, it is often not nearly as severe as the flu.
Dr. Ahmad M Hadied
Orthopedic Surgery 49 years experience
Let me help: The cold and flu are both respiratory illnesses, but they are caused by different types of viruses. Flu symptoms usually come on quickly (within 3-6 hours) and consist of a fever, body aches, dry cough, and extreme tiredness. Cold symptoms are less severe and people experience a stuffy nose, productive cough, slight tiredness, and limited body aches.
Dr. Randy Baker
Holistic Medicine 40 years experience
Different viruses: Colds are caused by the 99 or more varieties of rhinovirus; symptoms are sneezing, runny nose, sore throat, cough with mild fatigue/achiness & little or no fever, usually lasts a week & you can function. People use the "flu" loosely but actual influenza is a serious illness- you feel you've been hit by a truck, fever, exhaustion, achiness, sore throat, sneezing, cough, can't function. See comment:.
Dr. Randy Baker
Dr. Randy Baker commented
Holistic Medicine 40 years experience
Provided original answer
Colds will resolve without treatment but the herb Pellargonium sidoides (sold as Umcka) is proven to help you recover more quickly. Western medicine does not have great treatments for the flu. The flu vaccine does not work well (see http://well.blogs.nytimes.com/2012/11/05/reassessing-flu-shots-as-the-season-draws-near/?smid=fb-share ) and drugs like Tamiflu are basically worthless. I do advise optimizing Vit D levels to reduce risk of flu and treating with Sambucol, an elderberry extract proven to help. Homeopathy can be very successful in treating the flu (see http://www.homeopathic.com/Articles/Using_homeopathy_for_ailments/Homeopathy_and_Influenza_Real_Research_Real.html )
Jan 21, 2013
Dr. Heidi Fowler
Psychiatry 25 years experience
Cold vs flu: Flu symptoms may include: muscle aches ; pains, a fever above 100 degrees, headache, congestion, weakness, chills, increased sweating and coughing. A cold is generally milder and usually doesn't include fever.

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