Is it a cold or the flu?

Although cold and flu symptoms can be similar, they are in fact different infections that are caused by different viruses. One third of Brits mistake the flu for a bad cold, just because their symptoms are more severe and lasting a little longer than usual. It can be difficult to differentiate, but there are some main differences between these two illnesses that you should look out for in terms of symptoms, severity and duration.

Generally speaking, a cold is simply a milder version of the flu and most people are able to continue with their daily activities; however the flu is more debilitating and could lead to further complications. They are both respiratory infections that produce similar symptoms and are both caught through person-to-person contact. Treatment of both illnesses are generally the same in that you need plenty of rest and to drink lots of fluids, but you may need specific over-the-counter medicines to tackle different symptoms.

Here are some of the main differences between a cold and the flu that you can look out for in the future.

Common cold:

  • Gradual onset of symptoms after contracting virus - over a couple of days
  • Fever is rare (more common in children)
  • Slight aches and pains
  • Chills are very uncommon
  • Chesty, productive cough
  • Sneezing, stuffy noses and sore throats are common
  • Chest discomfort and headache is mild


  • Rapid onset of symptoms after contracting virus - usually within 3-6 hours
  • Fever is present for the first couple of days
  • Aches and pains are present and often severe
  • Chills are fairly common
  • You are likely to feel tired
  • Coughing will be dry and unproductive
  • Sneezing, stuffy noses and sore throats are uncommon
  • Chest discomfort and headaches are common and often severe