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The Difference Between the Common Cold and the Flu

A stuffy nose, pounding head and scratchy throat – the symptoms of a cold and the flu can sometimes overlap. Can you quickly determine which illness is which? Both may make you feel exhausted, both are a form of respiratory infection and both are caused by specific viruses. While the common cold and the flu share some similarities, each has different symptoms and levels of discomfort.

Before the cold and flu season begins, the experts at ServiceMaster Clean want to help your family be prepared. Here are some helpful guidelines for being able to tell the difference between cold and flu symptoms.

Spotting the Differences Between the Common Cold vs. the Flu

While the symptoms of a cold typically progress gradually over the course of a few days, the symptoms of the flu can emerge suddenly. How quickly the symptoms start is one of the main distinctions between a cold and the flu. The severity of the symptoms is another key difference between the two. Learn the breakdown of the most common symptoms of each below:

The Symptoms of a Cold

Cold symptoms are usually much milder than the flu, and they often get better within seven to ten days. In rare instances, cold symptoms may last for up to two weeks. Common symptoms of a cold include the following:

  • Sore throat
  • Runny nose
  • Stuffy nose
  • Sneezing
  • Fatigue or weakness
  • Slight cough or chest discomfort

Most colds are caused by rhinoviruses. These viruses enter your body through your mouth, nose or eyes, and can even be spread when a sick person near you sneezes, coughs or speaks. Typically, drinking plenty of fluids can alleviate most symptoms.

The Symptoms of the Flu

In general, flu symptoms are more severe than the cold. Symptoms come on suddenly and last up to two weeks. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), the flu can have very serious and even life-threatening complications, including pneumonia and multi-organ failure. However, some of the most common symptoms associated with the flu include the following:

Moderate to high fever
Chills
Dry, hacking cough
Sore throat
Stuffy nose
Runny nose
Severe fatigue
Severe body or muscle aches
Headache
Vomiting
Diarrhea

While anyone can get the flu and serious complications can happen at any age, there are certain people that are more at risk of developing life-threatening complications, according to the CDC. These include children, pregnant women, any person with certain chronic medical conditions and adults over the age of 65.

How to Help Prevent the Spread of the Cold and Flu

The cold and flu viruses are contagious and can easily be transmitted to others. Since your family may be exposed to germs on a regular basis if one household member is ill, take the necessary steps to keep your loved ones protected. First, teach your family about the importance of proper hand hygiene. Then, prevent the spreading of germs by properly disinfecting high-touch areas like kitchens and bathrooms several times a day.

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