What are the Most Common Cold and Flu Symptoms?

B. Miller
B. Miller
Cold symptoms usually show up in the head and chest.
Cold symptoms usually show up in the head and chest.

In many ways, the most common cold and flu symptoms can be very much alike, though they differ in severity. Symptoms of a cold (rhinovirus) typically include coughing, sneezing, a runny nose, and sometimes a low grade fever for the first few days of the illness. Flu (influenza) symptoms can be similar, but often the fever is much higher, and body aches and pains are also present as well as fatigue. Cold and flu symptoms can both last for a few weeks, but cold symptoms tend to get better more quickly, whereas the flu can cause one to actually need to stay in bed for a week or two until the symptoms fade.

People with a common cold or flu often experience a runny nose.
People with a common cold or flu often experience a runny nose.

Cold and flu symptoms typically start out very similarly, and will often worsen within a few hours until it becomes clear whether it is a simple common cold or the flu. Cold symptoms are typically confined to the head and chest; a chest cold will cause more coughing and can become more serious if it does not start to get better, so be sure to stay warm and drink plenty of fluids. A head cold causes more nasal congestion and sneezing, frequently also leading to headaches and eyes that are red, painful, and watery. If one experiences a fever with a cold, it should go away within a few days, as should a mild sore throat.

Head colds generally cause severe nasal congestion, which leads to frequent sneezing, and coughing.
Head colds generally cause severe nasal congestion, which leads to frequent sneezing, and coughing.

The symptoms of the flu are more severe and hard to mistake. Children may experience nausea, vomiting, or diarrhea with the flu, though this is less common in adults; a loss of appetite is possible, however. The fever is typically much higher with the flu, and may also cause headache as well as aches and pains throughout the entire body. Extreme fatigue is common as well. People with the flu may find it very difficult to get out of bed, sometimes for as much as ten days to two weeks.

Sore throats are a common symptom of cold and flu.
Sore throats are a common symptom of cold and flu.

Managing the cold and flu symptoms as soon as they appear is important. Many over the counter medications can help to target cold and flu symptoms and make the illness more manageable. It is also important to get plenty of rest, drink lots of fluids, and keep warm while recovering, so the illness does not turn into something more serious like pneumonia. The yearly flu shot can help to prevent the flu, but unfortunately the only ways to prevent the cold include avoiding other people who are sick, regularly washing the hands, and avoiding touching the face.

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    • Cold symptoms usually show up in the head and chest.
      Cold symptoms usually show up in the head and chest.
    • People with a common cold or flu often experience a runny nose.
      People with a common cold or flu often experience a runny nose.
    • Head colds generally cause severe nasal congestion, which leads to frequent sneezing, and coughing.
      Head colds generally cause severe nasal congestion, which leads to frequent sneezing, and coughing.
    • Sore throats are a common symptom of cold and flu.
      Sore throats are a common symptom of cold and flu.
    • The fever that accompanies influenza is typically more severe than the fever associated with colds.
      The fever that accompanies influenza is typically more severe than the fever associated with colds.
    • A yearly shot may help prevent the flu.
      A yearly shot may help prevent the flu.
    • It is important to manage cold and flu symptoms as soon as they manifest.
      It is important to manage cold and flu symptoms as soon as they manifest.
    • Coughing is a common cold symptom.
      Coughing is a common cold symptom.
    • Influenza may cause body weakness.
      Influenza may cause body weakness.