Cold or Flu?

Newsletter - Nov15 - Cold or FluFighting an illness is never fun. As we move closer to winter and incidents of the flu start to pick up, knowing what you are dealing with will help you understand what steps you should take to get better. Here’s how to tell if you’re coping with a cold or fighting a flu.

Influenza and common cold symptoms are:

Runny nose, scratchy throat, coughing, fever — So how do you know if you are feeling the effects from the flu or just a common cold? It’s not surprising that people mix them up quite often. When your co-worker returns after just one sick day and says it was the flu, they’re probably wrong. It’s easy to confuse them since they both make you feel miserable and share many of the same symptoms. Despite their similarities, the steps you need to take to combat them are different. Here’s what you need to know to figure out what is making you feel so bad.

The common cold and influenza are closely related

Most people know that the flu is caused by a virus, but so is the common cold. There’s so much overlap between the two that even doctors find it hard to tell them apart. Once infected, they can take up to a week or two to completely leave your system. Both are easily spread from person to person through the air from sneezing and coughing. While there may be some similar symptoms, such as stuffy nose, sneezing, and a sore throat, other times they may not present in cases of the flu.

How to differentiate between the cold and the flu

So we asked one of our doctors, what is the biggest difference between the flu or common cold? She gave us the example of the ‘€20 test.’ If you see €20 on the ground, if you feel well enough to pick it up, you’ve got a common cold. But if you’re thinking “I feel so terrible right now that I absolutely can’t be bothered reach down for €20,” then you’ve got influenza.

Put simply: if you are still able to function, albeit not at 100%, you have a common cold. When you have the flu, you’re not doing anything but sleeping and looking for someone to take care of everything else.

The main reason you are so helpless with the flu are the symptoms that go along with it. Your body aches all over, you’ve got a high fever, sweats and chills to go along with it, and if you are very unlucky, you’re vomiting and have diarrhea which will keep you running to the toilet from the comfort of your bed sanctuary. The flu will hit you out like a Mike Tyson knockout punch. Forget about everything else, you’re in bed for the next few days.

Other ways to differentiate between the two:

While common colds make us feel crappy for days on end, the symptoms build up over a few days, grinding us down. But we can still drag ourselves to work or pick the kids up from school. The flu virus comes at you like a speeding train. Once inside your body, the virus goes into overdrive replicating itself and overwhelming the body’s internal defenses. Within just a few short hours of contact you can have yourself a full blown case of the flu.

How the flu virus invades our body

So what now?

First deal with the symptoms. Get yourself in bed or on the couch, rest, and drink plenty of fluids. With the flu, this is even more important because you are fighting a fever. It won’t be easy because you may have lost your appetite and/or are feeling nauseous, but it’s very important. Pain relievers, such as acetaminophen and ibuprofen may help. Unfortunately, since both illnesses are caused by a virus, antibiotics are useless.

If you have a cold, you can tough it out and go out into public. But please remember that you are probably contagious. Wash your hands frequently, cover your mouth when sneezing/coughing, and keep other physical contact to a minimum, especially greeting/parting kisses.

Stop the viruses spreading

Both viruses are spread by droplets coughed or sneezed out by an infected person. These viruses then search for a new host to begin infecting. Once someone else breathes them in, or transfers them to their eyes or nose, the virus’s cycle of life will continue.

Protect yourself, and others, against colds and flu by:

  • Coughing or sneezing into a disposable tissue (get rid of that hanky, it’s not the 1930s anymore),
  • throwing away used tissues right away,
  • washing hands thoroughly and often,
  • getting a flu vaccination each year, especially if you are around ‘at-risk’ people.

Winter can be a miserable time for many. Stress and being confined to environments highly conducive to viral propagation are the norm — I’m looking at you, public transportation! It just takes one infected person to pass the bug along to many more. Getting your annual flu vaccination is one step towards protecting yourself and those around you. Now is the best time to stop in for your vaccination.

Facts & Myths

FACT: Antibiotics treat bacteria, not viruses. Because the common cold and influenza are both viral infections, antibiotics will not help.
MYTH: Feed a cold, starve a fever.
FACT: Eat and drink healthy to get healthy! Chicken soup is great food with or without an illness.
MYTH: You can catch the flu from going out in cold weather without a coat, with wet hair or by sitting near a drafty window.
FACT: Coincidence is not causation. Viruses causes colds; warm, stuffy environments allow them to live longer and transmit easier.
MYTH: The flu is just a bad cold.
FACT: People should get the vaccinated as soon as it is available, as it takes up to two weeks to reach full antibody protection.
MYTH: It’s better to get the flu than the flu vaccination.


No matter how well we prepare ourselves and our immune systems, sometimes we just can’t avoid getting sick. So do the easiest thing you can to help avoid sickness; get your flu shot! And just in time for flu season, we’re offering a special price. So call FirstMed today and schedule your appointment. Come in on a Saturday or to our Hűvösvölgy location for a special price on your vaccination. Click here for details.