The difference between cold & flu


Spot the symptoms

Colds and flu are often thought to be the same thing but flu is far more serious than the common cold. Read on to learn the key differences so you can recognise the tell-tale signs.

Cold & flu

Colds and flu are both caused by viruses that spread via airborne droplets when infected people sneeze or cough. These droplets spread the virus when they are inhaled by people or transferred to the nose or eyes via the fingers. Even though the symptoms of a cold and flu virus can be similar (a cough, for example), ‘catching a cold’ is far more common - there are around 200 forms of a cold virus. Flu can cause serious complications for those who are more at risk, such as those with asthma.

Symptoms of a cold can last for up to two weeks and include:

• Coughing

• Sneezing

• Sore throat

• Blocked nose

• Runny nose

• Headache

• Tiredness

• Mild fever

Symptoms of flu come on quickly and include:

• Sudden high fever of 38-40°C

• Sweating

• A dry cough

• Feeling exhausted

• Aches and pains

• Sneezing

• Runny nose

Symptoms of flu usually appear one to three days after infection and can last for up to one week, but you may feel more tired than normal for a longer period of time as your body recovers. Flu can be serious for people who are more at risk of chest complications, such as those with asthma, heart or chest complaints, diabetes and lowered immunity. 


Generally, the symptoms of a cold or flu virus can be managed from home without seeing your Doctor. It’s important to rest and drink plenty of non-alcoholic fluids to help avoid dehydration. Painkillers such as paracetamol can help lower a feverish temperature and ease aches and pains. Decongestant sprays or tablets can help provide relief of a blocked nose. If you are unsure what products are suitable, pop into your local boots pharmacy and speak to a member of the pharmacy team who can recommend a suitable product for you.


 You can help avoid spreading infection by doing the following:

• Cough and sneeze into a tissue

• Throw used tissues into the bin as soon as possible 

• Wash your hands as often as possible to prevent germs from spreading

• Avoid touching your eyes and nose 

Don’t forget to rest and take it easy until you feel better.