Difference between cold and flu?

woman in bed with fever wondering difference between cold and flu

When we feel sick and get the first chills, we wish we knew the difference between cold and flu. We would like to know if we will be able to go to work the next day, or take that nice trip on the weekend. Is this just a cold or will we be bedridden with the flu, high fever and body aches?

So, what is the difference between cold and flu?

As we are in the middle of winter we all wish to stay healthy and away from the nasty bugs that thrive in such weather. Unfortunately this is not always the case. When you get sick, the sooner you take the appropriate treatment the more likely you are to recover fully and rapidly. This is why it helps to know if you have a simple cold or if you are getting the flu.

The problem is that it is often difficult to recognize the symptoms at an early stage. And to make it even more puzzling, a severe cold might resemble a mild flu! Yet it is best to start the treatment as soon as possible.

In a nut shell, you could probably go to work with a cold and still function, but certainly not with the flu.

Colds come on gradually and are generally confined to your upper respiratory track: sneezing, runny nose, nasal congestion, sore throat.

In contrast, flu hits you like “a ton of bricks.” It comes on very quickly and can affect the entire body with a high fever, chills, body aches and pains.

However, both common colds and flu are caused by viruses. Keep in mind that antibiotics are meant to kill bacteria, and are not effective against viruses. Inappropriate use of antibiotics has helped create strains of bacteria that are resistant to treatment. And this is a big concern.

The lower humidity during the colder months helps both cold- and flu-causing viruses to thrive. This weather may also dry the lining of the nasal passages, making them more susceptible to infection. That is why we recommend using a humidifier in the bedroom and drinking lots of fluids during a cold.

Tips to stay healthy

The cold and flu viruses can spread by direct contact with an infected person, by contact with a contaminated surface or by inhaling infectious particles. A sneeze can expel particles from the nose at more than 100 mph!  Once airborne, you can easily inhale those fast-moving particles. Now that you know the difference between cold and flu, be particularly diligent when you suspect you or someone around you is getting sick. In all cases, do your best to stop colds and flu from spreading:

  • wash your hands frequently with warm water and for at least 20 seconds
  • regularly disinfect doorknobs, faucets, and light switches. If you have stairs, do not forget the handrails.  If there are children in the home, also wash or disinfect toys.
  • routinely clean shared remote controls and computer mouses with disinfecting wipes.
  • teach kids to sneeze into the corner of their elbow
  • follow a balanced diet rich in vitamin C and get plenty of sleep so you are less vulnerable to viruses.

And if you do get sick

-drink lots of warm fluids (cold ones require energy to bring them up to the body temperature): mainly herbal teas and broths, but also soups. They help thin the mucous and are easy to digest. Chicken soup helps with mucosal clearance and has anti-inflammatory actions. It contains highly absorbable forms of calcium, magnesium, potassium, phosphorus, and trace minerals. It also has easily digestible proteins and promotes vitamins and minerals assimilation. As a bonus, chicken soup contains gelatin and collagen that are good for the joints

  • avoid sweet
  • dairy because they thicken the mucous
  • get plenty of rest
  • avoid over stimulation by TV and computer
  • take several grams of vitamin C: the powdered form, with no sugar added is the best way to go. Mix it with room temperature water, never hot liquid since heat destroys vitamin C

What about people around you?

Young children and the elderly, as well as people with a compromised immune system are more vulnerable. Therefore they are more likely to experience serious flu complications. This is another reason to be aware of the difference between cold and flu.

And remember that most adults with a cold or with the flu may be able to infect others from one day prior to becoming sick and for five days after they first develop symptoms. However, some young children with still maturing immune systems may be contagious for longer than a week.