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What Is the Difference Between a Cold and the Flu? (video)

What are symptoms? Which is worse? What are treatments?

What are symptoms? Which is worse? What are treatments?

Vivian Tran, MD, an internal medicine physician at Scripps Clinic, explains the difference between the common cold and the flu, common remedies and ways to prevent getting sick.

Video transcript

What is the difference between a cold and the flu?

The cold and the flu are both respiratory illnesses, but the main difference between them is their severity. Colds aren’t as severe as the flu. They’re both viruses, but the cold usually starts a little bit slower. It occurs over a few days before you realize how bad the symptoms have become.


With the flu, it comes out of nowhere, and it usually hits you hard and it hits you fast. You can have headaches, cough, congestion, fever, chills and body aches. With the cold, you generally have upper respiratory tract infections and symptoms, such as sinus congestion and coughing. You might have a little bit of fever, but it’s usually not to the degree you would with the flu.

What are home cold and flu remedies you would suggest?

Overall, with viruses, supportive care is the best method of treatment. Something you can do at home to help treat your cold or flu is to hydrate. Get plenty of hydration. The most important thing that I stress to my patients is they need to drink a lot of water. Granted, they should also consult with their doctor if they have other conditions that might prohibit them from drinking a lot of water.


Other things that might help are getting plenty of rest. They can drink tea with a little bit of honey and lemon for sore throats, and take over-the-counter medications after consulting with their doctors.

How can I avoid catching a cold or flu?

The best way to avoid catching a cold or the flu is hand hygiene. Wash your hands throughout the day, especially during flu season, which runs from September through March.


Other things include not touching your face. The way a cold or the flu gets transmitted is usually through the air, through droplets. When somebody coughs, you can catch their cold or flu. If you touch something that has a cold or flu virus on it and you transmit it to your mouth, nose or eyes, you can actually catch it as well. So my advice is wash your hands and try not to touch your face.

Watch more Ask the Expert videos now for quick answers to common medical questions.