In a typical year, flu season occurs from fall to early spring — and with it comes sniffling, sneezing, coughing, fatigue, and all the familiar trappings of the flu.
The severity of the illness varies by person, but the COVID-19 pandemic lends a new urgency to protecting ourselves while both of these viruses surge in the coming months.
Flu shots are always important, but they’re even more important this year to protect the population, and especially vulnerable groups, from getting flu while COVID-19 is still a threat.
What’s the difference between a cold and the flu?
The common cold and the flu may seem similar at first. They’re both respiratory illnesses and can cause similar symptoms. But different viruses cause these two conditions.
Your symptoms can help you tell the difference between them.
Both a cold and the flu share a few common symptoms. People with either illness often experience:
- runny or stuffy nose
- body aches
- general fatigue
As a rule, flu symptoms are more severe than cold symptoms.
Another distinct difference between the two is how serious they are. Colds rarely cause other health conditions or problems. But the flu can lead to:
If your symptoms are severe, you may want to confirm either a cold or flu diagnosis. Your doctor will run tests that can help determine what’s behind your symptoms.
During the COVID-19 epidemic, call ahead for the protocol on visiting a doctor in person or having a online visit.
Cold and flu symptoms should also be treated with care due to their overlap with COVID-19 symptoms.
If your doctor diagnoses a cold, you’ll only need to treat your symptoms until the virus has run its course. These treatments can include:
- using over-the-counter (OTC) cold medications
- staying hydrated
- getting plenty of rest
For the flu, taking flu medicine early in the virus’ cycle may help reduce severity of the illness and shorten the time that you’re sick. Rest and hydration are also beneficial for people with the flu.
Much like the common cold, the flu often just needs time to work its way through your body.
What’s the difference between the flu and COVID-19?
The symptoms of COVID-19, the flu, and allergies have some overlap, but are often different. The main symptoms of COVID-19 are:
Sneezing is not typical.
Flu symptoms are similar to COVID-19 including fever and body aches. But you may not find shortness of breath as a symptom with the flu.
Allergy symptoms are usually more chronic and include sneezing, coughing, and wheezing.