Flu symptoms can come on suddenly,1 and early signs of the flu can be similar to those of a cold. Knowing the difference between a cold and the flu means you have a better chance of finding the right treatment to beat the flu sooner.
Colds do not usually require any specific measures beyond taking over-the-counter medications to help ease symptoms, and you can normally get these from your local pharmacy.
See if you can guess who has the flu and who just has a cold below…
Age: 5 years old
Runny nose, sore throat, diarrhoea
Stacey has the flu
While a runny nose and sore throat could be signs of a cold, Stacey is also suffering from diarrhoea – a symptom of the flu that’s especially common in children.
Age: 17 years old
Moderate cough (developed slowly), sneezing
Brad has a cold
Brad's cough was slow to develop which is indicative of a cold, rather than the flu.
Age: 42 years old
Fever (developed suddenly), weakness, stuffy nose
Jing has the flu
Jing's fever developed suddenly, which is a strong sign of the flu.
Age: 71 years old
Body aches, headache, cough
Larry has the flu
While Larry’s cough could be a sign of both the flu and a cold, his body aches and headache suggest he’s got the flu.
Suspect the flu? Call or visit your doctor as soon as possible
If you feel ill with some or all of the symptoms listed above, and you suspect the flu, speak to your doctor as soon as possible to confirm a diagnosis.
Treatments are available to protect you from the flu and its complications. These include a specific type of treatment called antiviral flu medications.3 Unlike over-the-counter remedies, antiviral medications target the flu virus directly.4,5
- Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). Flu symptoms and complications. Available from: www.cdc.gov/flu/symptoms/symptoms.htm. Last accessed: November 2019.
- Banning M. Br J Nurs 2005; 14(22): 1192–1197.
- Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). Treatment. Available from: www.cdc.gov/flu/treatment/whatyoushould.htm. Last accessed: November 2019.
- Klepser ME. Drugs 2014; 74(13): 1467–1479.
- Stiver G. CMAJ 2003; 168(1): 49–56.