Influenza vs. Common Cold: Know the Differences

It can be challenging to distinguish the difference between diseases, especially in its early stages and you’ve probably wondered which flu medicine to intake. Diseases like Influenza and Common Cold, being the most common illnesses in humans, may feel similar because they share almost the same symptoms. But it’s important to identify the difference between the two to know what kind of actions to take. 

What is a common cold?

A common cold is a growing infectious disease of the upper respiratory tract. It’s an illness caused by almost two hundred different types of viruses. Common colds are spread when an infected each coughs or sneezes infectious agents into the air which can be breathed in if you’re close by. You can tell that you’ve developed a cold when you have experienced its signs and symptoms. 

Signs and Symptoms of a Common Cold:

  • Fever
  • Sore Throat
  • Cough
  • Fatigue
  • Headaches
  • Sneezing
  • Runny nose


Common Colds are spread through contact but some factors can cause this illness like age (children are more prone to catch a common cold because their immune systems have not been completely developed.) weak immune system, weather, smoking, and being exposed to places that contain cold viruses. 

Actions to Take

Since there is no cure and specific treatment made for the common cold, you should take note of the alternative ways to fight off the virus and help you feel better. Most people treat their common colds at home. The key to treating a cold is by getting a large amount of rest.

Take a break from your daily routine and focus on getting better. For fever, aches, runny noses, cough and pain, you can opt to take over-the-counter medicines such as paracetamol and decongestants. But if symptoms persist, you might want to consider visiting a doctor.


Unlike Influenza, there is no vaccine for the common cold. Preventive care is important for yourself and the people around you. Make sure to follow these safety precautions to avoid developing this illness.

  • Wash your hands with antibacterial soap and water
  • Avoid touching your mouth, nose, and eyes with dirty hands
  • Cover your mouth with a tissue when you sneeze and throw it right away
  • Don’t share drinking glasses and utensils
  • Avoid close contact with people with cough and colds
  • Take care of your body by drinking enough fluids, getting enough rest, consuming the right food, and managing stress
  • Drink vitamins and honey lemon water

What is influenza?

Influenza (commonly known as the flu) is a contagious infection caused by influenza viruses that attack your respiratory system, just like the common cold. While the common cold only reaches your nose and throat, influenza can reach your lungs and may cause severe illness and its complications can be life-threatening. 

Signs and Symptoms of Influenza: 

Experiencing these signs and symptoms may lead you to think that you might have just caught a cold. Although their signs are similar, take note that colds are typically developed slowly since influenza comes on suddenly. Common colds are typically milder. Influenza’s symptoms include: 

  • Fever over 100.4 F (38 C)
  • Dry cough
  • Fatigue and weakness
  • Nasal congestion
  • Sore throat
  • Sore and aching muscles
  • Chills and sweats
  • Headache


Influenza is also transmittable through air and direct contact. Individuals such as children under the age of five, adults older than the age of 65, pregnant women, and people diagnosed with chronic diseases (asthma, diabetes, kidney, liver, and heart disease) are at higher risk of developing influenza. People who are at high risk are most likely to develop even more complications such as pneumonia and bronchitis.

Actions to Take

Similar to a common cold, plenty of rest and fluids is what you need to fight the symptoms of influenza. But there are also over-the-counter flu medicines you can buy like Analgesics to cut fever and pain. Antihistamines to dry out your runny nose. Decongestants for clogged noses. Nasal Steroids for nasal pressure. 

It is also not suggested to seek a doctor right away. But if you are experiencing symptoms of the flu and are at risk for complications, it is best to seek advice from a medical professional.


Influenza vaccines (also known as flu shots) are vaccines to protect you from getting influenza. This does not make you immune to the sickness and no assurance that it is 100% effective so it is just as important to apply good health habits. 

Key Takeaway

Influenza and Common Colds are relatively similar, and it is easy to mistake one for the other. But now that you recognize their subtle differences, it is easier to distinguish and know what flu medicine to take. Influenza has more risk factors than the common cold and catches up to you faster. Their prevention tips are most likely the same, but influenza uses the advantage of having a yearly vaccine.