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Do You Have the Flu or the Common Cold? Here's How to Tell

Medically reviewed by Jobelle Ann Dela Cruz Bigalbal, MD · General Practitioner

Written by Excel Dyquiangco · Updated Jun 14, 2021

Do You Have the Flu or the Common Cold? Here's How to Tell

You wake up one morning with a slight ache in your throat. Then you suddenly sneeze, alongside a deep cough. You find yourself not feeling well. How do you know if you have contracted the common colds or influenza? What is the difference between these two conditions?

The Difference Between a Cold and the Flu

Although both have similar symptoms and are both respiratory illnesses, the flu, and the common cold are caused by different viruses.

In general, the flu, of course, is the more serious one with its symptoms more intense and colds are milder than the flu. People who experience colds have stuffy and runny noses and do not require medical treatment.

The flu, on the other hand, can either be mild or severe which sometimes requires hospitalization and medical treatment.

Flu can also sometimes lead to other conditions such as pneumonia, bronchitis, and bacterial infections. 

Myths about the Flu (Trangkaso), Debunked

It’s important to note that these three differences when comparing the flu vs the colds. 

  • Onset: At the start, the flu can come in suddenly with the fever while the common cold can come gradually through a runny nose and a sore throat. 
  • Fever: A common cold seldom includes the fever while the symptoms of the flu, however, usually have an initial fever. With the flu, cough, muscle, and body aches are also common.
  • Timing: In the Philippines, the flu generally happens during the wet season while the common colds can happen during both the wet and the dry season. If you have a weakened immune system, the flu and colds come at any time of the year. 

The common cold can also be contagious and may easily spread to others so it is better to just stay home and rest. 

In spite of these differences, however, there is really no way to tell whether you have the common cold or the flu – unless you have a medical professional looking after you a few days after you become ill.

This is very essential in treating the flu: Your healthcare provider can prescribe antiviral medications to ease your symptoms.

What Are the Symptoms of the Flu Versus the Symptoms of a Cold?

The symptoms of the flu include:

  • fever or feeling feverish
  • sore throat
  • cough
  • stuffy or runny nose
  • body and muscle aches
  • fatigue
  • headaches

This can also lead to more serious health problems such as bacterial infection or pneumonia.  

The symptoms of the cold, meanwhile, are less severe than the symptoms of the flu. They can include:

  • runny or stuffy nose
  • sore throat
  • headaches

The common cold does not usually require medical treatment or a visit to the doctor. 

Cold symptoms appear gradually while flu symptoms are abrupt.

Who Are at Most Risk if Infected with the Flu or the Common Cold?

Age or pre-existing conditions do not necessarily have anything to do with whether you get the flu or the common cold. However, there are some people who are at most risk of not only contracting the flu but contracting other more serious illnesses, as well. These are: 

  • People who are over 65 years of age
  • People with chronic medical conditions
  • Young children
  • Pregnant women

7 Ways to Boost Immunity Against the Common Cold

How Do You Protect Yourself from the Flu and the Common Cold?

There are many ways to protect yourself from the common cold and the flu. Among these include:

  • Getting the annual flu shot. There are health clinics around Metro Manila and in your provinces that provide you with the flu shot if you ask. Just one shot a year will do.
  • Washing your hands. Especially when you go out of the house these days or before and after mealtime, it is very important to always wash your hands with soap and running water. Wash your hands for at least 20 seconds a day. Wash under your fingernails too.
  • Avoiding touching your nose, eyes, and mouth. With the COVID-19 threat, it is extremely important not to touch your eyes, nose, and mouth. Always be aware of where you put your hands. 
  • Staying away from others who are sick. Keeping your distance from those who have colds or the flu is one of the best ways to prevent both conditions.
  • Sneezing or coughing into a tissue. If it’s a sudden sneeze and you don’t have a tissue within your reach, use your elbow to cover your nose and mouth.
  • Staying home when you are sick. Don’t go out of the house and don’t mingle with people when you have the flu or the common cold.

What Are the Home Remedies for the Common Cold and Flu?

  • Drink lots of fluids. Water is still best to loosen the mucus in your lungs.
  • Eat hot soup such as chicken soup. Warm fluids can help ease the feeling of congestion.
  • Get enough sleep and rest. Aside from sleeping, rest throughout the day so that you can regain your strength.
  • Adjust your room’s temperature. Keep your room warm, but not overheated. Make sure that enough air flows into your house or your room. 
  • Gargle with lukewarm water and salt. Soothe your throat by putting a dash of salt into a glass of water.  

8 Effective Common Cold Home Remedies

How Do You Get Treated for the Common Cold and Flu?

There is no treatment for the common cold. These medications, however, can help you with the flu. 

  • Pain relievers. There are some over-the-counter pain relievers that can relieve you of your flu.
  • Decongestant nasal sprays. Adults can also use decongestant nasal sprays for up to five days. More than that is not advisable. Children below five years old should not use decongestant sprays. 
  •  Cough syrups. Cough syrups work for both children and adults. Just follow the directions on the label. 

Key Takeaways

So whether you have the flu or the colds, don’t worry as these can be treated. Always stay healthy, practice good hand and respiratory hygiene to protect others as well.

Learn more about respiratory health, here.


Hello Health Group does not provide medical advice, diagnosis or treatment.

Medically reviewed by

Jobelle Ann Dela Cruz Bigalbal, MD

General Practitioner

Written by Excel Dyquiangco · Updated Jun 14, 2021

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