Is it a Cold or the Flu?

It’s that time of year when you are likely hoping you’re just dealing with a cold and not the flu, but there are ways to tell. Dr. Bruce Barrett, with the University of Wisconsin, says, “There is huge overlap among non-influenza viruses and the symptoms produced by influenza and other bugs. Unless someone comes in during the peak of flu season [–a two month period that typically lands somewhere between November and March–] I can’t tell very well whether it’s cold or flu based solely on symptoms.” But there are some differences. Usually a cold takes a few days to build up, while the flu comes on quickly. Also, a cold usually lasts about three to five days, while a flu tends to last about twice as long, and a fever is much more common among flu patients, along with headaches, body aches, and a dry cough. However, if you have cough that produces a lot of mucus or fluid, you have a sore throat, and you’re sneezing or dealing with a runny nose or head congestion, those symptoms are more typical of a cold. Additionally, colds are most common in early fall, and in spring (though can still be a concern year-round), but the flu is usually confined to its winter schedule. It’s notable that for most healthy adults and kids, colds and flu usually don’t require a doctor’s attention, but if you’re still feeling bad after a week, or if your symptoms seem to be getting worse after the first few days, or your fever reaches 103 degrees Fahrenheit, you should see a doctor.