Is It a Cold or the Flu?

When you wake up sneezing, coughing, and have that achy, feverish, can't move a muscle feeling, it’s important to know whether you have cold symptoms or the flu. The medical staff of AppleCare provides simple guidelines to help recognize the difference.

Cold symptoms

Cold symptoms usually begin with a sore throat that lasts a day or two. A runny nose and congestion follow, along with a cough by the fourth and fifth day. In most adults, a slight fever is possible, but uncommon. Children, however, are likely to have a fever with a cold.

In the first few days of a cold, watery nasal secretions occur. Later, these become thicker and darker. Dark mucus is natural.

When will it end?

Cold symptoms usually last a week. The first three days are contagious, which means you can spread the cold to others so stay home and get some much-needed rest. If symptoms persist after a week, you may have a bacterial infection and need antibiotics.

Sometimes cold symptoms can be mistaken for hay fever or a sinus infection. If symptoms come on quickly and improve after a week, it is usually a cold. If symptoms linger beyond then, check with your doctor to see if you’ve developed an allergy or sinusitis.

Flu symptoms

Flu symptoms are usually more severe than those of a cold and come on quickly. Telltale signs include sore throat, fever, headache, muscle aches and soreness, congestion, and cough. Swine flu can bring about vomiting and diarrhea.

Most flu symptoms improve over two to five days, but it's not uncommon to feel run down for a week or more. If you experience shortness of breath or your fever returns after having been gone a day or two, pneumonia may have developed and you should contact a doctor.

Just like cold viruses, flu viruses enter your body through the mucous membranes of the nose, eyes, or mouth. Every time you touch your hand to one of these areas, you are at risk of infecting yourself with a virus, which makes it very important to keep hands germ-free with frequent washing to prevent both flu and cold symptoms.

If you think you have the flu or would like to get a flu shot, visit any AppleCare Immediate Care in your hometown. No appointments are necessary.