Cold vs. Flu

The difference between cold and flu is that a cold is a mild respiratory illness while flu can make you ill for a few days to many weeks even it can result in serious respiratory problems like pneumonia and hospitalization.

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Cold vs. Flu

Although apparently cold and flu appear as same, but in fact, they are not the same thing. When you are ill and feel yourself sneezing or coughing having running nose, watery eyes and muscle pain, you may be affected with common cold or flu. The main difference between common and cold is in their symptoms and complications. Fever is either not present, or there is a low-grade fever in cold while in the flu, fever is of high grade (102 to 104F) which continues for 4 to 5 days.

The underlying cause of the common cold is the mucosal damage due to excessive cold exposure while that of the flu is the influenza virus. Headache may or may not occur in the cold while it is always there if you have the flue. General body aches are slight in the cold while they are severe in case of the flu.

Stuffy nose is common in case of cold, but it may or may not occur in the flue. Sneezing is usual in the cold while may or may not occur in the flu.

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The complications of the common cold are not frequent and of less intensity but if occur, they include middle ear infection and sinus congestion. The complications of flu are severe and include bronchitis, sinusitis, ear infection, and pneumonia. Its respiratory complications may be life-threatening.

Common cold can be prevented by maintaining good body temperature in the cold season, wearing multiple layers of clothes and by avoiding the droplets of the affected persons. Flu can be avoided by maintaining good hygiene, hand washing practice and by avoiding contact with those persons who have the flue.

For the treatment of common cold, supportive measurements are taken. Painkillers are given for sore throat; decongestants are given for stuffed nose and antipyretics for fever. All these medicines are given in case of flu also, but antiviral drugs are also given in addition because it is a viral disease.

If you are ill and have more nasal symptoms, more likely you are affected with the common cold. These symptoms may include runny nose or nasal blockage, sore throat, anosmia, i.e., loss of smell and taste and sneezing. If you have additional lower respiratory tract symptoms, more likely you have the flue. These symptoms include chest congestion, cough, and shortness of breath. flu is much faster in onset and progression than the common cold.

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Comparison Chart

Basis Cold Flu
Definition The common cold is a condition which occurs in the cold season associated with sneezing, coughing, runny nose, and mild muscle aches.The flu is a viral disease resembling in symptoms with a common cold, i.e., stuffy or running nose, coughing, sneezing but other symptoms may also occur.
Fever Fever may or may not present in this case. If present, it is a low-grade feverFever is always present, and it is high-grade fever, i.e., 102F to 105F.
Muscle aches Less severe or not present.Muscle aches are very severe.
Running nose Running nose is a common symptom.Running or stuffy nose may or may not be present.
Sneezing Sneezing is a usual finding.Sneezing may or may not be present.
Underlying cause The underlying cause is the exposure to an extremely cold temperature which causes the mucosal damage of the respiratory tract.The underlying cause is the viral infection which affects the respiratory tract and lungs.
Complications Complications are rare. They include middle ear infection and sinus congestion.Complications are common. They include sinusitis, ear infection, bronchitis, pneumonia and other lung pathologies which may be life-threatening.
More common symptoms Upper respiratory symptoms are more common like sneezing and stuffy or running nose.Lower respiratory symptoms are more common like cough, chest congestion or shortness of breath.
Prevention It can be avoided by keeping yourself warm in the cold season and maintaining hygiene. The close contact with the affected person must also be avoided.Flu can be avoided by maintaining good hygiene and avoiding contact with the affected person. Good hand washing practice must be adopted. Vaccination against influenza is  also available.
Treatment Decongestant nasal drugs are given along with other supportive measures. Plenty of fluid is advised. Antipyretics are given if there is a fever.Nasal decongestant drugs along with antipyretics are given. Painkillers are given if there is a sore throat. Drugs for cough are also advised. Antiviral is also added.
Vaccination Vaccination against cold is not availableVaccination against flu is available
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What is the common cold?

The common cold is a diseased condition of the respiratory system which occurs commonly in the cold season. It occurs due to the damage to the mucosa of the respiratory tract. The common symptoms of cold are sneezing, running nose, stuffed nose, and low-grade fever. Mild muscle aches are also there.

It is a benign disease which resolves after the course of 6 to 8 days. Supportive care is given for its treatment. Bed rest is advised to the patient. Plenty of fluids must be taken. Warm body temperature must be maintained. Painkillers may be advised if there is headache, sore throat or muscle aches. Nasal decongestants are given if there is the stuffy nose. Anti-allergic drugs are given for sneezing. It is a mild disease and complications are rare. Middle ear involvement or sinus congestion may occur, but it is rare. Common cold can be prevented by wearing multiple layers of clothes in the cold environment and by avoiding the droplets of the affected person.

What is flu?

It is also a respiratory tract disease which symptoms resemble with those of common cold, but there is more involvement of the lower respiratory tract. There are more cough, chest congestion and shortness of breath. There is a high-grade fever in the case of the flu. The underlying cause of this disease is a viral infection.

Vaccination is available against flu, but it is effective only for one year because the virus changes its genotype every year. flu can be avoided by maintaining good hygiene, adopting good hand washing practice and avoiding close contact with the affected person. The complications in flu are common and include sinusitis, bronchitis, and pneumonia which may lead to death. Antiviral drugs along with supportive care are given for the treatment of flue.

Key differences

  1. Common cold occurs due to the mucosal damage of the respiratory tract on exposure to extreme cold while flu occurs due to a viral infection.
  2. Upper respiratory symptoms are more common in the cold while lower respiratory symptoms are more common in the flu.
  3. Vaccination against flu is available but not for common cold.
  4. There is no fever or low-grade fever in the cold while there is a high-grade fever in case of the flu.

Conclusion

Common cold and flu are two commonly occurring diseases which are often mixed. It is compulsive for medical students to know the differences between both. In the above article, we learned the clear differences between common cold and flue.

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