What is the difference between a cold and the flu?



A cold is also known as a flu-like infection. It is an infectious disease of the upper respiratory tract, which means that the mucous membranes of the nose, the paranasal sinuses and the airways are inflamed. Symptoms are similar to those of the flu and include a sore throat, cough, and runny nose. However, the common cold usually starts more slowly than the flu and is a little milder. Symptoms appear insidious and gradually get worse.

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Influenza is a viral disease caused by influenza viruses. The viruses infect the mucous membranes and cause symptoms that suddenly appear, such as high fever, runny nose, sore throat and cough. The severity of the flu can vary, and in extreme cases it can even be fatal. The flu is a dangerous illness that should definitely be seen by a doctor.
The flu occurs particularly frequently in the winter time and so-called flu waves can occur, in which the disease occurs more frequently in terms of time and location. At risk groups such as the elderly or people with a weakened immune system, an annual flu vaccination is recommended to protect against the disease.

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What is the difference between a cold and the flu?

Distinguishing between a cold and the flu is not always easy, but they are different diseases with different courses. In popular parlance, the two terms are often used synonymously.

The common cold and the flu are caused by different triggers. Both diseases are infectious diseases that are caused by a virus. A cold can be caused by a variety of different viruses, most commonly rhinoviruses, whereas the “real” flu is always caused by influenza viruses. In both diseases, infection occurs through droplet infection, direct body contact with sick people or through contaminated objects.

A common cold or flu and the flu have similar symptoms. These include a general state of health, malaise, body aches and a high body temperature. Typically, the symptoms of the flu appear very suddenly, whereas the common cold is characterized by a gradual onset of the disease. A cold usually begins with a sore throat as the first sign, gradually increasing symptoms. Several symptoms that occur suddenly and violently together speak more for flu.

When you have a cold, the body's defensive reaction can cause a fever. In most cases, however, the body temperature rises only slightly to a maximum of 38.5 ° Celsius. Flu is often accompanied by a sudden and very high fever, values ​​above 39 ° Celsius, chills and sweating are typical.

Another differentiator between a cold and the flu is the accompanying pain. A cold usually starts with a sore throat and sore throat. A runny nose, congested sinuses, and frequent sneezing and mild headaches are other symptoms of the common cold. Towards the end of the illness, the sore throat usually disappears, but often a dry, tickly cough still occurs. Those affected feel weak and complain of slight pain in their limbs.
In the case of the flu, however, a blocked or runny nose is rare; the disease is characterized by a strong cough, sore throat and severe difficulty swallowing. People with the flu experience severe headaches and extreme body aches. In addition, those affected are very exhausted and feel exhausted and tired for a long time.

In summary, the difference between the flu and the viral cold can be said:

A viral cold is caused by viruses. Over 200 different viruses are known, the most common pathogens being the rhinoviruses. The viruses penetrate the mucous membranes of the upper respiratory tract and cause inflammation, which manifests itself in a runny nose, sore throat and cough. In addition, a mild fever and mild limb pain and headache may occur. A cold only needs to be treated symptomatically, which means that the patient can relieve symptoms with sore throat tablets, cough syrup and nasal spray. In most cases, a visit to the doctor is not necessary.

The flu is caused by influenza viruses. These are very contagious pathogens that are transmitted by droplet and smear infection. For those who are debilitated, the flu is not just a bad cold, it is a serious illness that can lead to serious and life-threatening complications. People who are at high risk of catching the flu can protect themselves with the annual flu shot. A real flu is characterized by sudden symptoms, a high fever that sets in quickly, and severe headaches and pain in the limbs. The process is more protracted than with a normal cold. A doctor should be consulted if the flu is suspected.

You can find more information at: Flu symptoms and Symptoms of a cold

How does the duration differ?

A cold and the flu have a different course of illness and the duration of the illness differs accordingly.

The duration of a cold depends on the type of pathogen, the severity of the infection and the immune system of the person affected. A common cold usually lasts about a week, and most patients are cured after nine days at the latest. If symptoms have not improved after a week, a doctor should be seen to rule out flu. Colds are caused by viruses in over 90% of cases, so treatment with antibiotics does not make sense. However, the doctor may prescribe medication to treat the symptoms, which will speed healing and shorten the duration of the cold.

Influenza often has a more severe course and therefore lasts significantly longer than a cold. In the case of a real flu, you can expect the illness to last seven to 14 days. It can often take several weeks for the patient to fully recover. Elderly and debilitated people in particular take a long time to recover from severe flu. Pneumonia, myocarditis and inflammation of the brain can occur as complications in the course of the disease. In addition, the weakened immune system can lead to an additional infection with bacteria, which is then referred to as "superinfection". These additional illnesses can significantly extend the duration of the flu and even lead to death.

These symptoms can help you tell whether you have the flu or a cold

The symptoms of the flu and the common cold can be very similar. Many people are initially unsure whether they have the flu or just a common cold.Whether you have the flu can be determined from the following symptoms: The symptoms appear suddenly within a few hours and are usually accompanied by a very high fever. Those affected feel "as if slain", completely exhausted and are permanently tired. If you have the flu, you get a severe, severe sore throat, difficult swallowing and a dry cough right from the start. Other symptoms are severe headache and pronounced pain in the limbs and muscles.

A cold can be recognized by the fact that it begins insidiously and slowly. The initial symptoms, in most cases these are sore throats and difficulty swallowing, are gradually joined by other symptoms such as coughing and runny nose. A blocked nose and swollen sinuses are common headaches, but these are relatively mild compared to the headache associated with the flu. Pain in the limbs is also sometimes found, but less severe than with the flu.