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How Do You Know if It’s a Cold or Flu?

  • Medical Author:

    Sandra Gonzalez Gompf, MD, FACP is a U.S. board-certified Infectious Disease subspecialist. Dr. Gompf received a Bachelor of Science from the University of Miami, and a Medical Degree from the University of South Florida. Dr. Gompf completed residency training in Internal Medicine at the University of South Florida followed by subspecialty fellowship training there in Infectious Diseases under the directorship of Dr. John T. Sinnott, IV.

  • Medical Editor: Melissa Conrad Stöppler, MD
    Melissa Conrad Stöppler, MD

    Melissa Conrad Stöppler, MD

    Melissa Conrad Stöppler, MD, is a U.S. board-certified Anatomic Pathologist with subspecialty training in the fields of Experimental and Molecular Pathology. Dr. Stöppler's educational background includes a BA with Highest Distinction from the University of Virginia and an MD from the University of North Carolina. She completed residency training in Anatomic Pathology at Georgetown University followed by subspecialty fellowship training in molecular diagnostics and experimental pathology.

Ask How Do You Know if It’s a Cold or Flu Related Articles

Ask a Doctor

My 15-year-old son woke up with a stuffy nose and a bit of a fever. He wants to still play his football game tonight, but I don’t know if I should let him. A cold is one thing, but if he has the flu, the physical strain could be dangerous for him. How do you know if it’s a cold vs. flu?

Doctor’s Response

Either way, rest and plenty of fluids will be best for your son’s health. To prevent spreading the infection, he should stay away from people who are well until he has not had a fever for 24 hours.

Many people commonly and incorrectly confuse influenza (the flu) with the common cold. The common cold is a mild infection frequently caused by viruses other than the influenza virus.

Differentiating a cold from the flu by symptoms alone can sometimes be difficult or impossible, but in general, people with the flu get sick more suddenly, look much sicker, and feel much weaker than if the ailment were a common cold. Higher fever, body aches, extreme tiredness, and dry cough are more often symptoms of the flu, whereas runny or stuffy nose are more often associated with common colds.

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Reviewed on 9/6/2018
Sources: References