Healthwise
To print: Use your web browser's print feature. Close this window after printing.

Difference Between the Flu and a Cold

Table of Contents


Topic Overview

The flu and the common cold are both types of upper respiratory infections (URIs). Both are caused by viruses. But the flu is not the same as the common cold.

Flu symptoms

Flu symptoms are usually much worse than a cold. The flu usually comes on suddenly and lasts longer.

Symptoms may include:

The symptoms usually are the worst for the first 3 or 4 days. In most healthy people, the flu will go away in 5 to 7 days. But it can take 1 to 2 weeks to get completely better.

The flu usually occurs during the late fall and winter.

Cold symptoms

Cold symptoms usually come on over the course of a couple of days.

Symptoms may include:

Colds usually last 1 to 2 weeks. As the cold gets worse, your nose may get stuffy with thicker mucus.

You can catch a cold at any time of year, but they are more common in late winter and early spring.


Credits for Difference Between the Flu and a Cold

Current as of: July 1, 2021

Author: Healthwise Staff
Medical Review: Kathleen Romito MD - Family Medicine
Adam Husney MD - Family Medicine
William H. Blahd Jr. MD, FACEP - Emergency Medicine


Note: The "printer friendly" document will not contain all the information available in the online document. Some information (e.g. cross-references to other topics, definitions or medical illustrations) is only available in the online version.

© 1995-2021 Healthwise, Incorporated. Healthwise, Healthwise for every health decision, and the Healthwise logo are trademarks of Healthwise, Incorporated.
This information does not replace the advice of a doctor. Healthwise, Incorporated disclaims any warranty or liability for your use of this information.