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Imagine this scenario. You come home from work and you feel unusually tired. You go to bed early, only to wake with an achy body, a low-grade fever and the chills. You’re coughing and your nose is stuffed, so what is it: a cold or the flu? If it’s a cold, you’ll be back to normal in a few days, but the flu can linger much longer, and be more serious. Knowing the difference between the two can alleviate your symptoms sooner while also protecting the ones you love.

Both the common cold and the flu are respiratory illnesses, but they are caused by different viruses. That’s why it can be hard to tell the difference between the two when the initial symptoms appear. The flu is generally worse than a cold and lasts a few days to a few weeks. It can lead to additional complications such as pneumonia or dehydration. Symptoms like a fever, body aches, extreme fatigue and a dry cough are most prominent and intense.

A cold, on the other hand, is less serious and usually has a person feeling ill for a few days. Some symptoms can linger on, but you should still be feeling improved in less than a week. Colds have milder symptoms that include runny and stuffy noses, sore throats and coughing, and they don’t result in serious complications like the flu can. However, colds that linger can turn into bronchitis or a sinus infection, so it’s important to see a doctor if your symptoms persist over two weeks.

The only way to know for certain if it’s a cold or the flu is to be tested at the start of symptoms. There are blood tests that can identify certain strains of flu, but generally people go off their gut – and their symptoms. However, if it’s an elderly loved one you’re caring for, you may want to have a test done to ensure they are receiving the appropriate care.

Here is a great guide to use when you’re feeling sick, courtesy of

Symptoms Cold Flu
Fever Sometimes Usual
Headache Occasionally Common
General Aches and Pains Slight Usual
Fatigue, Weakness Sometimes Usual
Extreme Exhaustion Never Usual
Stuffy Nose Common Sometimes
Sneezing Usual Sometimes
Sore Throat Common Sometimes
Chest Congestion Mild to Moderate Common