cold or flu

It can be hard to know if you’re suffering from the flu or just a common cold. Image: Caroline via Flickr CC.

When you come down with the sniffles, you might find yourself asking the question: do I have a cold or do I have the flu? We get the two confused with each other constantly, even though it is important that we know the difference. This is especially important information to know as spring approaches, and many people are susceptible to getting sick.

To help us find the difference between the two, we must turn to the experts, like Dr. Arta Bakshandeh, a medical officer with Alignment Healthcare in Irvine, California.

Alignment Healthcare is a healthcare group dedicated to providing its members with the best possible medical care at the lowest possible price. Alignment Healthcare is run by successful medical professionals like Dr. Hyong J. (Ken) Kim, the chief medical officer, and prominent businesspeople like Robbert Vorhoff of General Atlantic, who is on Alignment’s board of directors.

So what does Dr. Bakshandeh have to say about the differences between the flu and a cold?

According to Bakshandeh, “Although both the cold and flu come from a viral etiology, the common cold is an acute infection of upper airway, generally producing nasal congestion, runny nose, cough, sneezing, and sore throat.”

The flu, however, is a completely different animal. It is must more aggressive and presents symptoms like fever, cough, sore throat, nasal congestion, headache, muscle pain, malaise, diarrhea, and vomiting, the latter being especially common in children.

The main differences, then, is the severity. The presence of muscle pain, malaise, diarrhea, and vomiting during the flu make it particularly dangerous and comparatively make the common cold appear to be no more than a nuisance. To the point, Prevention suggests that you see a doctor if you have the flu, while you don’t necessarily need to do so if you have the common cold.

cold or flu

This handy symptoms chart is courtesy of Syracuse University Health Services.

Simply put, you can easily “power through” or sleep off a cold with little or no medicine—this is rather difficult if you have the flu.

So now that we know how nasty these ailments can be, how do you prevent yourself from being bedridden by them? Of course, drinking warm tea and eating chicken noodle soup work well for recovering from such illnesses, but this doesn’t protect against getting the illnesses in the first place.

Being proactive about staying healthy and keeping a clean and germ-free living space can greatly reduce the risk that you will get sick. To accomplish this, try sterilizing your home by wiping down high traffic surfaces with antibacterial products at regular intervals.

As far as your personal health goes, remaining physically active has been linked to a reduced rate of getting sick in some studies.

That said, you shouldn’t run to the gym if you feel like you are coming down with something. If you have a cold, moderate exercise like walking should be fine. However, if you have flu symptoms, give your body a rest for a week or tow. In fact, fitness expert Chris Freytag told Prevention about her “neck check” system for physical activity: if the problem is above the neck, exercise can improve your symptoms. If not, you should rest until you feel better.

The “neck check” can also be used to quickly determine if you have a cold or the flu. Dr. E. Neil Schachter’s neck check follows that, generally, symptoms of a cold are above the neck and symptoms of the flu are below the neck.

With all of this information, you should be prepared to discern the flu from the common cold! Stay healthy out there!