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  4. What’s the Difference Between a Cold and the Flu?
  • What’s the Difference Between the Flu and a Cold?

    Wondering if you have a flu or a cold? Read on for guidance about symptoms, prevention and treatment.

    Learn the difference between a cold and the flu, what symptoms to watch out for, and how you can take care of your indoor air when someone in your house is sick.

    • The terms “cold” and “flu” get thrown around a lot as fall transitions into winter. Understanding the difference between these two common illnesses can help you protect yourself and your family.

    • Common Cold symptoms

      Cold symptoms

      The common cold has a wide variety of symptoms, but people with a cold will most often experience a sore throat, runny nose, sneezing, coughing, headaches and body aches.¹ A cold is unpleasant, but it’s not likely to last long—most people recover within 7 to 10 days.¹ If you’re sick and you want to keep others safer, practice good etiquette by covering your mouth with the crook of your arm when you cough or sneeze, and staying home from work or school when you have aggressive symptoms.

    • Influenza Symptoms

      Flu symptoms

      Unlike colds, which have a slow onset, people with the flu will often feel their symptoms come on extremely quickly. Some symptoms are similar to those of a cold, like coughing, sneezing, sore throat, headaches and body aches. However, if you have the flu, you also may have a fever, an upset stomach or feel especially fatigued. You won’t always get a fever if you have the flu, so it’s especially important to avoid contact with people if you suspect you’re sick.² Some clinics offer influenza testing, but a good cautionary measure is to get your flu shot each fall.²

    • How to treat a cold

      The common cold doesn’t have a cure or a vaccine, and since it’s a virus, it can’t be treated with antibiotics.¹ Getting plenty of rest and water can help speed your recovery, and over-the-counter cold medicines may help ease your symptoms.¹ See a doctor if your symptoms last more than 10 days.

      How to treat the flu

      If you suspect you have the flu, stay home from work or school and get plenty of rest and fluids. Antiviral drugs may shorten your symptoms by a few days and prevent complications like pneumonia. People who are at high risk for complications, including the elderly, young children and people with respiratory problems like asthma may benefit most from these drugs.³

      How to avoid getting and spreading the flu

      Knowing the difference between a cold and the flu is just the first step. If you or someone in your home has a cold or the flu, limit person-to-person contact, wash hands often and disinfect surfaces diligently. Stay home from work or school until symptoms have lessened.


      1. Common Colds: Protect Yourself and Others

      2. Flu Symptoms & Diagnosis

      3. Flu Treatment

      4. Guide to Air Cleaners in the Home (PDF, 2.93 MB)

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