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Just a Cold? 

Or Is It Something More?

You wake up sneezing, coughing, feeling achy all over and have a fever. Do you have the flu, or is just a cold? Learn how to differentiate between the flu and a cold with these tips from Linda Halbrook, M.D., family medicine physician on the Baylor Plano medical staff.   

Cold symptoms: Many times a sore throat lasting one or two days is the first symptom of a cold.  Other symptoms that follow include runny nose, congestion and coughing. Most adults do not experience fever with a cold, but sometimes children do.  

Flu symptoms: While colds often come on gradually, flu symptoms typically strike quickly. Symptoms include sore throat, fever, headache, muscle pain, congestion, fatigue, and coughing.  

Length of Illness: A cold is less severe than the flu, and cold symptoms typically only last for a few days or sometimes up to a week. If your cold symptoms do not improve after a week, see your doctor as you may have a bacterial infection and need antibiotics. Cold symptoms are easily mistaken for allergic rhinitis (hay fever) and sinus infections. 

The majority of flu symptoms improve within four to five days, but some symptoms may linger for weeks. If left untreated, the flu can also lead to more severe health problems like pneumonia, predominantly in young, elderly, and those with lung or heart problems.  

What’s the difference: Flu and cold symptoms are often very similar so Dr. Halbrook recommends taking your temperature to help differentiate between the two viruses. She says that a temperature of over 101 degrees F may indicate that you have the flu. An initial fever is a common symptom at the onset of the flu. In addition, you are more likely to experience body aches when you have the flu.