Many different germs, called viruses, cause colds. Symptoms of the common cold include:
- Nasal congestion
- Runny nose
- Sore throat
The flu is an infection of the nose, throat, and lungs caused by the influenza virus.
Many flu symptoms are similar to those of a common cold. Flu symptoms most often include fever, muscle aches, and fatigue. Symptoms can also include vomiting and diarrhea.
Below are some questions you may want to ask your health care provider to help you take care of your cold or flu.
What are the symptoms of a cold? What are the symptoms of the flu? How can I tell them apart?
- Will I have a fever? How high? How long will it last? Can a high fever be dangerous?
- Will I have a cough? Sore throat? Runny nose? Headache? Other symptoms? How long will these symptoms last? Will I be tired or achy?
- How will I know if I have an ear infection?
- How will I know if I have pneumonia?
Can I make other people sick? How can I prevent that? What should I do if I have a young child at home? How about somebody who is older?
When will I start to feel better?
What should I eat or drink? How much?
What medicines can I buy to help with my symptoms?
- Can I take aspirin or ibuprofen (Advil, Motrin)? How about acetaminophen (Tylenol)? How about cold medicines?
- Can my provider prescribe stronger medicines to help improve my symptoms?
- Can I take vitamins or herbs to make my cold or flu go away quicker? How do I know if they are safe?
Will antibiotics make my symptoms go away faster?
Are there other medicines that can make the flu go away faster?
How can I keep from getting a cold or the flu?
- Should I get a flu shot? What time of year should I get one? Do I need one or two flu shots every year? What are the risks of the flu shot? What are the risks for me if I do not get a flu shot? Does the regular flu shot protect against swine flu?
- Is a flu shot safe for me if I am pregnant?
- Will a flu shot keep me from getting colds all year long?
- Can smoking or being around smokers cause me to get the flu more easily?
- Can I take vitamins or herbs to prevent the flu?
What to ask your doctor about colds and the flu - adult; Influenza - what to ask your doctor - adult; Upper respiratory infection - what to ask your doctor - adult; URI - what to ask your doctor - adult; H1N1 (Swine) flu - what to ask your doctor - adult
Barrett B, Turner RB. The common cold. In: Goldman L, Schafer AI, eds. Goldman-Cecil Medicine. 26th ed. Philadelphia, PA: Elsevier; 2020:chap 337.
Centers for Disease Control and Prevention website. Key facts about seasonal flu vaccine. www.cdc.gov/flu/prevent/keyfacts.htm. Updated December 2, 2019. Accessed December 5, 2019.
Centers for Disease Control and Prevention website. Flu: what to do if you get sick. www.cdc.gov/flu/treatment/takingcare.htm. Updated October 8, 2019. Accessed December 5, 2019.
Ison MG, Hayden FG. Influenza. In: Goldman L, Schafer AI, eds. Goldman-Cecil Medicine. 26th ed. Philadelphia, PA: Elsevier; 2020:chap 340.
Review Date 9/29/2019
Updated by: David C. Dugdale, III, MD, Professor of Medicine, Division of General Medicine, Department of Medicine, University of Washington School of Medicine. Also reviewed by David Zieve, MD, MHA, Medical Director, Brenda Conaway, Editorial Director, and the A.D.A.M. Editorial team.