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Difference between Common Cold and Flu

Both common cold and flu are respiratory infections caused by different types of viruses. Most of their symptoms are similar, so it can be hard to tell which has attacked you initially. Generally, the flu is more severe than the common cold and causes more intense symptoms. Cold is usually milder than the flu. Let us see how common cold differs from flu.

Common Cold:

Common cold is a viral infection of the upper respiratory tract which includes nose, throat, sinuses, Eustachian tubes, trachea, larynx and bronchial tubes. There are over 200 types of viruses which may cause common cold. Around 30-50% cases of cold are caused by rhinoviruses.

Common cold is a contagious infection so it can be transmitted from one person to another person. Its incubation period varies from one to seven days. It usually lasts for seven to ten days; however, it may last for two weeks depending on the viral strain.

Common cold usually begins with a sore throat then followed by a runny nose and congestion along with the cough. Fever is not common in adults during cold, but children are more likely to have fever during cold. If cold symptoms do not get better, visit your doctor to see if you have developed sinusitis or an allergy. Some common symptoms of cold include a runny nose, sore throat, sneezing, cough, headache, mild tiredness etc.


Flu, which is also known as Influenza, is a viral infection of the respiratory tract caused by influenza viruses. This viral infection causes more severe symptoms than cold. It is a contagious infection so it can spread from an infected person to a healthy person. Its incubation period ranges from one to four days and it may last from five to fourteen days depending on the severity of the infection. The flu can result in serious medical conditions like pneumonia. Some common symptoms of flu include dry cough, sore throat, severe body or muscle aches, moderate to high fever, nausea and vomiting etc.

Based on the above information, some of the key differences between common cold and flu are as follows:

Common Cold Flu
It occurs gradually over a few days. It occurs quickly.
It is often milder than flu. It is often more severe than common cold.
It usually starts with a runny nose. It usually starts with a dry nose and throat.
It does not develop into a serious illness. It can develop into a more serious illness like pneumonia.
Symptoms appear gradually. Symptoms come on quickly, within 3 to 6 hours.
Hacking and productive cough are commonly experienced. Dry, unproductive cough is experienced.
It may cause fever sometimes. It usually results in fever.
Chills are uncommon. Chills are fairly common.
Stuffy nose and sneezing are very common. Stuffy nose and sneezing are experienced sometimes.
Headaches and body aches are common. Headaches and body aches are not common.
Vomiting and diarrhea are not experienced usually. Vomiting and diarrhea are experienced sometimes.
It usually causes mild exhaustion. It can result in severe exhaustion.
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