A cold and flu symptoms can be very similar so they can be confusing. But what’s the difference between a cold and the flu? Recognizing the difference between the two can determine treatments. Here are ways you can distinguish between the two. I don’t know anyone who hasn’t had a cold or the flu at least once in their lives. A common cold is one of the top reasons for children missing school and the flu causes U.S. employees miss millions of workdays costing the economy billions of dollars, not to mention, hundreds of lives every year.
There are many ways to prevent cold and flu but doctors recommend getting the flu shots as if it’s it’s the only way to prevent it. Unfortunately, flu shots are not 100% effective in preventing the flu. Luckily, my family and I have avoided these dreaded infections for many years without getting the shots, thanks to our strong immune system and natural preventive methods.
My first flu
I started getting sick with the flu right after Christmas while on a family vacation. Then, my daughter, and my mom came down with it. At first, I thought I just had a head cold. But it quickly became clear that I had the flu. How did I know? In general, flu symptoms are more severe and the duration is longer. My daughter recovered in 10 days (it’s great to be young!) and I recovered from it in 3 weeks while it took my mom nearly two months before she was completely better. Flu can take up to 6 weeks to 2 months, depending on age and health status, to completely resolve. And our experiences proved that.
Since we were on a family vacation, living in the same condo, eating together, and doing activities together, it was inevitable that we passed the virus from one another, even with precautions we took. When we were sick, we stayed up nights with fever, chills, body-aches, headache, and coughing. We were extremely tired that we couldn’t do a thing during the day. I never watched so much TV in my life!
What we felt were nothing compared to a little head cold but we got better with many of the natural immune boosting protocols, including drinking lots of tea made with honey ginger lemon syrup, eating Asian pear cough remedy made with honey, soothing our throats with Ginger Honey Cough Drops, eating spicy soups, lots of spicy kimchi (hello, probiotics!), mega doses of Vitamin C and more exotic herbal teas my mom made. It was grueling few days before we could come home and rest some more.
So how can you tell whether you have a cold or the flu?
Here is the breakdown.
What’s the difference between a cold and the flu?
- Caused by the most common virus, Rhinovirus
- Sore Throat
- A watery runny nose with head congestion
- Clear mucus but may get dark and thick
- Coughing – productive
- Unlikely fever in adults & low grade fever in children
- Incubation Period – 1-3 days
- No vomiting or diarrhea
- No exhaustion
- If symptoms persist for >1 week, check for hay fever or allergies
- Caused by Influenza virus
- Chest Congestion
- Thick mucus production
- Coughing – dry or productive
- Fever >100ºF in adults for 3-4 days
- Incubation Period – 1-3 days
- May involve vomiting and/or diarrhea
- Extreme exhaustion, especially at the beginning but fatigue may linger for 2-3 weeks
- Symptoms may last for 4-6 weeks
A complication from a cold can lead to a sinus infection. But complication from the flu can lead to bronchitis or pneumonia, especially for elderly, young children or immuno-compromised patients. If you have problems breathing or heart palpitations, you have to go to the doctor immediately. You should also watch for a returning fever after being gone for a few days. That can indicate pneumonia.
We took my mom to an Urgent Care in fear that she may have a bronchitis or pneumonia but the attending doctor confirmed after a lab test that she only had the flu and fortunately, no bronchitis or pneumonia. And all he recommended was a plenty of rest, fluid, and Tylenol if needed. And boy, did we rest and rest and rested some more. We couldn’t DO anything due to fatigue. I didn’t feel that level of fatigue even after giving birth!
While the flu was nothing but a nuisance, it resolved without further complications because we were relatively healthy. We were much better with all the home remedies we used, received chiropractic spinal adjustments regularly, and we ate healthy wholesome food normally.
If you don’t know if you have a cold or the flu, check the list of symptoms above to determine if you need further treatment.
Disclaimer: Flu like symptoms can mimic many serious conditions. And a mild viral or bacterial infection can lead to something more serious than a common cold or flu. If symptoms persist or worsen, see your doctor. These preventive methods are my opinion only and what works for me. This is not a medical advice nor the methods have been proven to prevent flu or cold.